Obituary - Gerry Oldfield, 1946-2012

1st March 2013 at 00:00

Everyone in his Portsmouth school knew Gerry Oldfield. Whether delving into his box of props, standing on top of a filing cabinet or pretending to be a trapped fly, the RE teacher delivered the kinds of lessons few teachers can get away with.

Gerry Edwin Oldfield was born in Northamptonshire in June 1946. After school, he studied for a certificate in education, specialising in RE and history, at St Luke's College in Exeter.

His first job, in 1968, was at St Luke's School in Portsmouth. Seven years later he moved to nearby Mayfield School. He remained there for the next 36 years, eventually becoming head of RE and of careers.

Mr Oldfield was, from the start, one of those teachers who makes an impression. He kept a box of props in the classroom and used its contents during lessons: a rubber brick or a funny-face mask. He spent one lesson pretending to be an insect, batting up against the classroom window. Another was delivered from the top of a filing cabinet.

Equally memorable were his ties: he rarely wore the same one twice. One was illustrated with a giant light bulb; many were simply flower-strewn or brightly coloured.

If there was a childlike joyousness to the way in which he embraced life, this made it easier for him to empathise with pupils. He enjoyed the same things as children, and he understood how they thought. As a result, pupils sought him out when they felt stressed or worried. Mr Oldfield's classroom was seen as a haven of calm and understanding.

Not that anyone actually called him Mr Oldfield. He was Gerry, both to staff and to pupils. It was Gerry they came to whenever they were having difficulties. For a year he worked with the inclusion team, mentoring boys who struggled with lessons.

As a young man, he had played for Mansfield Town youth football team. He retained this love of sport, and coached Portsmouth boys' team through the 1970s and 1980s, as well as teaching PE at Mayfield. But a broken leg forced him to quit PE teaching, and resulted in a limp that stayed with him for the rest of his life. He did, however, remain an avid Mansfield Town supporter: he kept a copy of the team's stag mascot at home.

He retired from Mayfield in 2006. That same year, at the age of 60, he decided to learn to drive. Though he passed his test, friends described his performance behind the wheel as "alarming".

Not a natural retiree, Mr Oldfield returned to Mayfield as a one-to-one English tutor, and coordinated the school's 80th-birthday celebrations. And he volunteered as chair of governors at nearby Newbridge School.

In 2008, he stood as Conservative councillor in a local election. Though he lost by only 14 votes, he was not the sort of person to harbour regrets: he simply continued to work for the party in other ways.

Gerry Oldfield died of a heart attack over Christmas.

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