Obituary - Bob Kennedy

26th November 2010 at 00:00


Bob Kennedy was a man of enthusiasms. He loved rugby, playing for his local club, and he was a committed Francophile, crossing the Channel twice every summer. But he also loved details: staff and pupils at his Lancashire grammar knew that anything Mr Kennedy set his mind to had to be done just right.

Robert Kennedy was born in Cheshire on Christmas Day 1944. When he was old enough to realise what this meant, his mother offered to exchange her own birthday, 25 June, with her young son so that he could celebrate properly. But Bob was adamant: his birthday was in December, regardless of inconvenience.

From primary school onwards he was an enthusiastic sportsman, and he went on to represent his local grammar at rugby. He later chose to pursue his love of reading with an English degree at the University of Wales in Lampeter.

The allure of sports remained strong: after graduating from university he enrolled in a one-year PE teaching course at Carnegie College of Physical Education (now Leeds Metropolitan University). In 1967 he found a job teaching English and PE at Hutton Grammar School in Preston.

Here, Mr Kennedy developed a reputation for meticulousness. Early on in his career he was encouraged by a colleague to take pupils on an annual camping trip to the Loire Valley in France. And so, long before it was mandatory, he began to keep detailed records of participating pupils and their varied needs.

Perhaps because of this, he became known as fussy: he was extremely particular and would make his objections heard if things were not just the way he wanted. On trips to France, he would become flustered over unwashed dishes or unpeeled potatoes; at school, his classroom had to be just so. Increasingly, he played to his audience: colleagues and pupils knew how to wind him up and he hated to disappoint.

Nonetheless, he was calm when the situation required. In 1978 a Hutton minibus crashed in the Alps, killing two pupils and a teacher. At the time, Mr Kennedy was leading another group of pupils on a camping trip elsewhere in France. Thinking quickly, he kept news of the crash from his students, ensuring they were able to enjoy the rest of their trip abroad.

After several years of these trips Mr Kennedy decided to take French lessons, eventually learning to speak the language fluently. This was the beginning of an lifelong love affair with all things French. Each year, after he had brought his pupils back from their camping trip, he would cross the Channel once more, this time to holiday with friends.

There, in the south-west of France, he would enthusiastically sample local wines. Eventually he realised that this need not be limited to summers abroad, and began to build up an extensive wine cellar in his Lancashire home. "I'm very narrow-minded," he would say, insisting that this cellar stocked only French vintages.

During 39 years at Hutton grammar, his career gradually shifted emphasis, with greater and greater focus on English teaching and on his duties as school housemaster. But he remained the coach for the school's rugby teams, combining this with an out-of-school career playing for Fylde, his local club.

One of the great sadnesses of his life was the development of early-onset osteoarthritis in his hips, forcing him to curtail this physical activity. By the time he reached his 50s, he had had three hip-replacement operations.

Mr Kennedy did not marry. Instead he surrounded himself with good friends, either watching cricket at a local social club or spending evenings at the school's Masonic lodge.

He loved talking to people, hearing about their lives and interests. After school hours, he was inevitably found in the same seat at The Dolphin, his local pub. The landlord now intends to put up a plaque so future customers will always know this was where Bob Kennedy sat.

It was a Friday night when he collapsed in his bathroom; a friend found him on Saturday afternoon. He was rushed to hospital but it was too late.

Bob Kennedy died on 12 September, aged 65. He is survived by his sister, Myra, and his niece and nephew.

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