Obituary - Steve Stone 1954-2011

15th July 2011 at 01:00

For almost 35 years, Steve Stone was a constant, immutable presence at south London's Greenshaw High School. Technology advanced, classrooms changed, but year after year the geography teacher stood at his blackboard, shirt sleeves rolled up, inspiring pupils with a love for the outdoors.

Stephen Stone was born in Bristol on 23 April 1954, the elder child of a bookbinder. After school he went on to study geography at Kingston Polytechnic. Physical geography was a particular passion: later colleagues would say that it was not an interest so much as a part of his personality.

Nonetheless, he did not initially plan for a career in the subject: he wanted to become a pilot. This ambition, however, was thwarted when he failed the initial eyesight test. And so - with relatively little forethought - he drifted into teaching, enrolling on a PGCE course at Keele University.

His first - and only - appointment was at Greenshaw High, in the south London suburb of Sutton. From the start he cut a distinctive figure in the classroom: impeccably dressed in shirt and tie, his sleeves inevitably rolled up. The aim was to create a sense of purpose. He was a man who got involved, got things done.

In some ways he was the archetypal physical geographer. He knew his corries from his pinnacles, and delighted in pointing them out and explaining them to pupils during field trips.

He also provided regular, detailed weather forecasts for colleagues. Any teacher planning a weekend trip away from home would first consult Mr Stone. His predictions were startlingly accurate, often down to the hour.

But where the archetype might drone on with no regard for his audience, Mr Stone's explanations were vibrant and colourful, his enthusiasm infectious. Walking in on his lessons, colleagues would find pupils listening in rapt silence. "I've got Mr Stone today," teenagers could be overheard saying to one another. "Fantastic."

Appointed Greenshaw's head of geography in 1985, he not only organised his subject's field trips but also took charge of all school holidays. An avid skier, he spent 20 years taking pupils on ski trips all over Europe (inevitably fuelled by copious quantities of cake). He also organised regular adventure holidays, both in Spain and south-west England. Before long, in fact, he was spending almost every holiday on a school trip of some variety.

Teaching - an impromptu career decision - became his life. He did not marry and had no children. Instead, school was his family: his home was a few hundred yards from its gates. Every afternoon he returned home with a large bag full of exercise books; every evening was spent marking.

He did, however, have a second and equal love in his life: fishing. He relished the freedom of the open seas and would regularly take boat trips out from the south coast. The subsequent catch would be distributed in the staffroom the following week, generating squabbles among colleagues, all eager for a fresh-fish dinner.

His love of fishing trumped even his fondness for fast cars. Test-driving a sports car on one occasion, he hauled all his fishing gear into the showroom. There would be no point even considering a car that did not hold it all.

Inevitably, he brought together his two loves, organising an annual fishing competition for pupils. This became a particular favourite among some of Greenshaw's most challenging teenagers. Many who were fractious and difficult in the classroom would become quiet and focused when sitting by the lake, fishing rod in hand.

Again, playing to archetype, he was not a man who liked change. In later years he was notorious as the only Greenshaw teacher still to have a blackboard in his classroom. He was used to drawing intricate geography diagrams in coloured chalk and saw no reason to switch to whiteboard marker. "Who am I, who've been teaching half as long as him, to tell him to change?" his headteacher reflected.

In fact, the older man often proved a valuable sounding board for the headteacher's new ideas. Unequivocal with his disapproval, Mr Stone was nonetheless quick to praise when he felt it was due. And he was always smiling, always positive, always willing to help colleagues and pupils.

When skin cancer was diagnosed, at the beginning of the year, his first thought was for the school: "I don't want this to affect pupils," he said.

Steve Stone died on his birthday, 23 April. He is survived by his sister Julie and by his niece and nephew.

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