Obituary - Ian Morgan

18th June 2010 at 01:00


To his more radical union colleagues, Ian Morgan's mainstream Labour politics were as incomprehensible as the crossword clues he wrote in his spare time. But no one who encountered the NUT president had trouble understanding his genuine dedication to educational reform.

David Ian Morgan was born in February 1932, the son of a South Wales schoolmaster. Teenage Ian was educated at the local secondary, before progressing to study English and theology at St John's College, Cambridge.

It was an easy decision to follow in his father's professional footsteps: Mr Morgan was a committed Baptist, and believed firmly in the value of giving back to the community.

And so, in 1954, he applied for a job as English teacher at Preston Grammar School. At the end of his interview, the headteacher asked him what he planned to do with the rest of his day. "I'm going to the match," Mr Morgan replied, referring to a home game being played that afternoon by Preston North End Football Club. He had carefully crammed up on local knowledge, in an effort to impress his interviewers. But there was only a bemused pause. "What match?" the head said.

Nonetheless, the day was not wasted. Mr Morgan was given the job, and also developed a lifelong loyalty to Preston North End. This was coupled with an allegiance to Blackburn Rovers: he was a season-ticket holder with both clubs.

It was while at Preston Grammar that he met Edith; they married in 1957. Their only child, Glyn, was born two years later.

Eventually, Mr Morgan left the grammar to work at nearby WH Tuscon College, an academically focused further education college. By 1972, he had risen to vice-principal, a position that he held until retirement.

He was not particularly political - his position as a mainstream Labour supporter placed him to the right of many union activists - but he believed keenly in the importance of research into new methods of teaching. And so he had gravitated to teaching union the NUT, which had an active educational research department.

In 1974, he was appointed to the NUT executive, representing Lancashire. Here, as in his Preston Grammar interview, he revealed a prodigious capacity for doing his homework: he was always impeccably prepared for meetings.

Despite his career beginnings in a grammar school, he believed strongly in the importance of education for all. During his own schooldays, he had seen classmates leave school at 14 to work in manual careers. Education had been his escape route; he wanted others to have that same option, and championed raising the school leaving age to 16.

In 1987, he was elected NUT president. In his speech to the union conference, he outlined his charter for improving the quality of education: teachers needed good buildings, dedicated planning and preparation time, and a significant support staff.

After executive meetings in London, he would inevitably go for a restaurant meal with friends. This became fondly known among his more radical comrades as "the right-wing dining club".

But all colleagues, regardless of political affiliation, were unfailingly impressed by his intellect and erudition. He was a keen debater and orator, and thrived on intellectual challenge.

It was the intellectual challenge that also drew him to crosswords. In 1987, he began compiling puzzles for the NUT's in-house magazine, as well as for The Guardian, under the pseudonym "Rover". Some took this as a tribute to one of his two football teams; others deduced a more cryptic reference to his role as crossword-setter: the setter is a type of dog, Rover a dog's name.

After his presidential year, Mr Morgan took early retirement from WH Tuscon. Edith was suffering from a long-term illness, and her husband took on the duties of full-time carer until her death in 2007.

He nonetheless remained involved in his local Baptist church: he was appointed an honorary deacon in 1995. And he ran a crossword course for the University of the Third Age, teaching others how to compile - and solve - the puzzles.

He disliked fuss: he preferred to do things for others than to have attention focused on him. And so it was not until April that he considered his ill health grave enough to merit a visit to the doctor. He died on May 31.

Ian Morgan is survived by his son, Glyn, and two grandchildren.

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