Obituary - David Hart 1940-2013

29th March 2013 at 00:00

David Hart was not just the general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, a colleague commented. He was the NAHT.

The undisputed king of the media-friendly sound bite made sure that everyone - headteacher, government minister and journalist - knew who he was and what his union stood for.

David Hart was born in August 1940. He was a solicitor by training and worked for the London firm Royds. It was this job that led him to the National Association of Head Teachers: he advised the union, defending members facing court cases.

But even in the early days he found himself stepping out of this role. When, at the union's 1974 conference, the president made a speech castigating a journalist over a headline, it was Mr Hart who was deputed to repair union-media relationships.

Four years later he took over as general secretary. During his interview, Mr Hart was asked to defend his lack of school experience. "I have more than 20,000 experts in the NAHT," he replied. This was his talent. He would speak to headteachers and listen to their stories. And then he would deliver a speech in which members would be able to spot their own experiences, translated for a wider, non-teaching audience.

His other talent was in working with the media. His phone was never turned off. And, recognising the importance of the Sunday-for-Monday story, he willingly gave up weekends to talk to the press. In fact, he became the master of the quick sound bite, more quoted by TES than any other union head.

Intellectually formidable, Mr Hart became an adept politician: he was not afraid of going on the attack, or of offending people, but he also knew when judicious silence was called for. And he continued his legal work for the union, advising and defending members.

If this sounds enough for two full-time jobs, it was not far from the truth: he regularly worked 80-hour weeks. Even off-duty, he was rarely off-duty. A dinner with Mr Hart might involve the occasional conversational aside about cricket - of which he was a devoted fan - but it would mostly focus on government education policy and heads' day-to-day worries.

"The face-to-face contact you get with members around the country is the best part of the job," he once told TES; he had met his second wife, Frankie, at a 1992 branch meeting in Cumbria. It was Frankie who introduced him to horse riding. He relished the freedom the hobby gave him: roaming on horseback provided a gratifying contrast to his daily life.

His final months in the job were not easy. The union was deeply divided over the national workload agreement and members ultimately voted against it, ignoring Mr Hart's advice.

He retired to Cumbria in 2005 and was awarded a knighthood the following year. He did not boast about this achievement, however: underneath the gregarious politicking lay a real modesty.

David Hart died of cancer on 14 March. He is survived by his wife, Frankie, as well as his sons, Jeremy and James.

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