30th July 2010 at 01:00

Chris Moorhouse - 1953-2010

On the outside, he was a gruff, brusque Yorkshireman. But Chris Moorhouse was actually a profoundly gentle teacher, willingly giving up his free time to help struggling pupils and Brazilian slum children, and quietly weeping when he had to say goodbye to a beloved pet parrot.

Christopher Moorhouse was born in the Yorkshire town of Dewsbury in September 1953. As a teenager, he always insisted that he did not want to be a teacher: he wanted to work in a lab. But after completing a degree in microbiology at Warwick University, he astonished relatives by enrolling in a teacher-training course in York.

It was here that he met Elizabeth Hennigan, a fellow trainee biology teacher; they married soon afterwards. Elizabeth went on to work as a research scientist, but this path no longer held any appeal for her husband: his priority was to work with children.

And so he took a job as a science teacher at Billericay School, in Essex. There his headteacher, a fellow Yorkshireman, developed swift admiration for the younger man's blunt purposefulness.

In fact, the phrase that comes up most regularly in connection with Mr Moorhouse is "brusque Yorkshireman". A 6ft 3in rugby player, he was gruff and to the point. He had no time for sentimentality or for the touchy-feeliness of modern eduspeak.

Nothing riled him; he rarely had to raise his voice to pupils. They just knew what was required of them. Any teenager not in lessons would immediately produce a note on passing Mr Moorhouse in the corridor.

But underneath it all, there was a genuine fondness for his pupils. He may have set up rigid rules in his lab, but he was often to be found in that same lab at lunchtime, helping out a struggling child.

He loved his subject and wanted to bring it alive so that pupils would love it, too. One of his favourite experiments involved freezing a flower in dry ice, then cracking it into smithereens with a hammer. His habitual gruff mumble "kids!" was regularly matched with the cheery acknowledgment that he had shown pupils "a cracking experiment" that day.

His career progressed in Southend: he became head of science at Shoeburyness High, then at nearby King John Comprehensive. In 1994, a job came up teaching science in Brunei. He and Elizabeth both loved travel, so it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

Their six years there allowed for more travel: they were among the early visitors to Hanoi when it was opened to tourists. And they explored other, little-visited areas: the jungles of Laos; the tropics of north-western Australia.

A true biologist, Mr Moorhouse began to cultivate tropical orchids. And he acquired a parrot, to which he became very attached: surreptitious tears were shed when he was forced to leave it behind.

He was also an avid cook and used his years in Asia to expand his repertoire: his kitchen cupboards were full of Indian and Thai spices.

The couple returned briefly to Britain in 2000 and Mr Moorhouse took up supply work. But this was not the life they wanted, and within six months both he and Elizabeth had found jobs at an international school in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Aware that they had a privileged life in an underdeveloped city, both Moorhouses became regular volunteers in the city's favelas, teaching slum children basic literacy and numeracy. "You can't ever feel sorry for yourself after you've worked there," Mr Moorhouse said.

In 2009, he left his job so that he could devote himself to developing his dream house, on a Brazilian beach. He project-managed the entire build himself. Again, his easy-going nature came to the fore. "Ah, well," he would say when his builders failed to show up. "They'll come tomorrow."

The house was built to his own design: there was an outside dining area and an indoor garden filled with a vivid array of tropical plants. Mr Moorhouse would stroll along the nearby beach with his two dogs, JR and Bobby, watching baby turtles hatch in the sand.

On June 21, he took just such a walk, stopping to greet neighbours along the way. That night, a brain haemorrhage killed him in his sleep. He was 56 years old.

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