Obituary - Andrew Stibbs 1939-2011

6th April 2012 at 01:00

Andrew Stibbs was a polymath. Verbally quick-witted, intellectually formidable and talented in both arts and sciences, he could have pursued any career he wanted. He chose to train teachers.

Born in July 1939, from an early age Andrew delighted in the kind of wordplay that reinforced his image of himself as a schoolyard intellectual.

It was an accurate image: the Bradford schoolboy excelled in arts and sciences, and achieved 98.9 per cent in his art A level. After completing a degree in history and English at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, he could have gone into any profession. He chose teaching because, more than anything, he wanted to make a difference.

He spent 14 years teaching English in the North of England. It was while teaching in Liverpool that he met his first wife, Carol. They went on to have three children, William, Tom and Catharine.

He was a Falstaffian figure: rambunctious, rotund and full of humour. An elected council member of the National Association for the Teaching of English, he would entertain conference delegates by improvising a speech in the style of a Shakespearean character, or a poem in the style of Ted Hughes.

It was at one such conference that he met Christine, his second wife. He caught sight of her as she arrived and spent the remainder of the conference pursuing her. They have one daughter, Olivia.

In 1976, he was appointed advisory teacher for Cleveland local authority, using this time to complete an MA in education at Durham University. Passionate about the comprehensive system, he wanted to ensure that all teachers were prepared for this new type of education. And so, in 1978, he was appointed lecturer at the University of Leeds' School of Education.

He brought enormous enthusiasm to the job, as well as continued fondness for wordplay. Mr Stibbs' classes regularly ended 20 minutes late, collective laughter resounding from behind the lecture-hall doors. Above all, his aim was to persuade students that teaching was the most important job they could do. Despite this, he was consistently humble. He did not congratulate himself for what he did: he simply did it.

He read constantly, consuming knowledge voraciously. Appearing to need little sleep, he would follow a day's teaching by cooking dinner, canvassing for the Labour Party and socialising over beer. He was a prolific poet and reviewed other poets' work for a local magazine, achieving a reputation for sympathetic fair-mindedness.

Never personally ambitious, he was promoted to senior lecturer in 1992. He retired in 2001, but continued to read (the London Review of Books, he always said, was "my comic"), write and, increasingly, paint.

He was being treated for cancer this winter when he caught the superbug that took his life.

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