Friday Hero

4th April 2003 at 01:00
The Reverend Richard Tillbrook was ordained a priest three years ago but has taught religious education at Davenant foundation school in Loughton, Essex, for more than 30 years.

The school has a long history and the Revd T, as he is known, is an expert on it. Founded in Whitechapel, east London, in 1680 by the Reverend Ralph Davenant, the school educated boys at four sites in the East End before moving in 1980 to Essex, where it became a co-educational comprehensive.

Since then it has gained voluntary-aided status and is described as an ecumenical Christian school. As well as RE, the Revd T has been "student services officer" in charge of careers advice, which he dispenses from a demountable classroom dubbed "the holy hut". His interest in the school extends to active involvement with old boys (some are over 80 and still attending school events), leading the founders' day service and even officiating at ex-pupils' weddings.

A parent, Barbara Harrison, nominated him for our flowers, champagne and chocolates to say thank you, as he is retiring at Easter to become a full-time parish priest in Colchester. "State schools don't usually have chaplains but Revd T performs the role of spiritual and pastoral leader as if he were one."

Ms Harrison says that what she values most is his letter to every exam candidate, "wishing them well and assuring them that if the results are not what they would wish, support is available".

Deputy head Sally Lynch agrees he has made "a massive contribution" to the life of the school. "He has seen tremendous change and can tell wonderful stories," she says. "He is a teacher with two vocations and we shall all miss him."

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