Obituary - Damon Gravatt, 1974-2011
Damon Gravatt's career was characterised by creativity: the 36-year-old primary teacher wrote plays, songs, stories. And, in blatant violation of his school's dress code, he brought colour to the classroom with a diverse range of novelty ties.
Damon Gravatt was born in May 1974, the son of an engineer and a secretary. When, as an 11-year-old, he announced that his school was offering clarinet lessons, his father agreed to buy him an instrument. Six months later, Damon was impressing school concert-goers. "If that was a beginner," one parent said, "we're in for a pretty good show."
By the time he finished school, teenage Damon had reached grade eight on the clarinet and learnt to play saxophone, guitar and keyboards. He had also acquired a second hobby: technology. Whenever his mother struggled with her BBC computer she merely turned to her son for help. "You just need to talk to it," Damon would say.
After school, he took a music and IT degree at Liverpool Hope University. Uncertain what to do after graduation, he asked to volunteer for a day at his local primary. Six weeks later, he was still there. And so he decided to enrol in a PGCE course at Lancaster University.
He was subsequently appointed to Storrington First School in West Sussex. At 6ft 4in, he towered above his tiny charges. And yet he was, in many ways, an oversized child himself, with a keen sense of fun. He became renowned for his novelty ties: musical-instrument ties, Roadrunner ties, smiley-face ties. And there were seasonal variations: a Christmas tie played musical chimes.
But his creativity went beyond his sartorial choices. He wrote plays for pupils to perform, complete with self-penned songs. One Christmas play, for example, reimagined the visit of the three wise men for the modern era. Instead of camels, the Magi rode a flying carpet, stopping off at passport control along the way.
However, he rarely boasted about these professional successes. Instead, his time was spent quietly planning lessons, working with his computers, and happily helping friends and acquaintances with technical problems.
After eight years at Storrington and a year at nearby St Leonard's, he decided he needed a change. And so he left teaching and found a job working in IT. Ultimately, though, he missed school - and the pupils - too much. Within a year he was back in the classroom, working as a supply teacher for several West Sussex schools.
Supply teaching suited him: he enjoyed seeing how different schools approached the syllabus. And there was renewed scope for creativity: in one school, he became known as "the man who draws dragons".
Eventually, he was offered an extended contract, working three days a week at Michael Ayres Primary. There, the headteacher was impressed enough to persuade him to stay on permanently. Working three days a week suited him: it allowed him to work on a manuscript for a children's book about a Lassie-like collie.
This book was the product of a dog-filled childhood. Continuing to live with his parents, he happily spent many non-teaching hours strolling in the countryside with his family's dogs.
He remained at Michael Ayres for several years, before it merged with nearby schools to create 680-pupil Southway Primary. The change from small to large primary did not worry him. However, because all pupils in a year had to be given roughly the same lessons, his pedagogical freedom was inevitably constrained, and this frustrated him.
But there were alternative outlets for his creativity. He took over running the school choir, expanding its repertoire to include modern songs, alongside show tunes and choral pieces.
He had a deep tenor voice himself, and had played the role of Nanki-Poo in a local production of The Mikado. Briefly, he also played in a band with colleagues, performing at charity events.
On the whole, however, his teaching and musical lives did not mix. When Michael Ayres invited peripatetic clarinet teachers to work with pupils, his father asked how these teachers responded to his own aptitude with the instrument. "Oh, they don't know," Mr Gravatt replied. "I didn't want to embarrass them."
At 5.15pm on 4 May, he rang his parents to tell them he was on his way home from school. When he failed to arrive, his father went out to look for him. He reached a roadblock and asked a policeman what was going on. The policeman informed the older Mr Gravatt that his son's car had crashed into two others. He did not survive the collision.