David Byatt

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
A school leader and keen sailor who valued truth and honesty has died, aged 79

David Byatt, second master at Gordonstoun School, in Moray, rarely raised his voice. Instead, he commanded respect through a combination of dignity, morality and quiet stability.

David Byatt was born in Hertfordshire in November 1932. His father, a retired colonial governor, died when his son was five months old, and his mother moved the family to north-east Scotland, where her favourite brother was a teacher at Gordonstoun.

In 1943 his mother died, and David was subsequently brought up by his uncle and aunt. The school was his life in those early years: he absorbed its philosophy of outdoor activity and trust in pupils' innate morality. It was during this time that he developed a keen love of sailing.

On graduation from New College, Oxford, Mr Byatt worked briefly for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, before volunteering to run the farm at Battisborough School in Devon set up by his former physics master.

Arriving at the school, however, he found that the headteacher had died. To help out, Mr Byatt offered to teach biology for a term. By the end of that term, he had been promoted to head.

That same year - 1961 - he also married Mary Arber, a laboratory research assistant he had met at a dance in Oxford. They went on to have two children, Sarah and James.

Sixty-pupil Battisborough was run along the same principles as Gordonstoun. Its new head liked things to be organised and correct: he was punctilious about grammar and tidiness. But when he took the boys sailing, they saw another side to him. "He stopped being a headmaster and became part of the crew," one remarked.

The school's small size, however, meant that Battisborough was economically unviable and in 1970 it closed. Mr Byatt was immediately appointed deputy headmaster at Gordonstoun. A year later, he was promoted to second master.

It was a role that he invested with dignity and firm morality. Standing tall in assembly, he would lecture pupils on right and wrong, truth and honesty. And he perfected the art of speaking quietly, so that pupils had to stop talking in order to hear him.

When Gordonstoun admitted girls, in 1972, teachers debated how to address their new pupils. Mr Byatt hit on his own solution: girls were "Miss Smith" or "Miss Jones", unless they were in trouble. Then they were "Madam".

During the headteacher's sabbatical, "Dadie", as he was known to friends, ran the school for a term. Colleagues praised his calm stability in the role. But he was not an ambitious man. Instead of seeking another headship, he remained at Gordonstoun, serving as a link between its past and its future.

On retirement, he worked for the Atlantic Challenge sailing contest, taking young sailors around the world to compete. And he served as president of the local Moray Society, overseeing the refurbishment of its museum. He worked for both organisations until Parkinson's disease forced him to step down.

David Byatt died on 8 August, aged 79.

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