Obituary - Tim Everton 1951-2011

15th April 2011 at 01:00

Tim Everton saw the world as a maths problem to be solved. The running of a teacher-training department could be plotted as a mathematical curve, stretching from idea to practical implementation.

It was a technique that enabled him to oversee the successful establishment of a new education faculty at Cambridge University and to take on the role of its first departmental dean.

Tim Everton was born on 28 March 1951 and was educated at Queen Mary's Grammar, Walsall. From an early age he saw things in terms of numbers and shapes. For him, maths was the language that illuminated the world.

He went on to study the subject at Keble College, Oxford. Maths was an instinctive pleasure for him, but he knew that it came less naturally to others. And so he trained as a teacher, hoping to give pupils the opportunity to share in this pleasure.

He taught in Walsall and Shrewsbury before enrolling in a master's degree at Keele University. Research was always part of his self-expression as a mathematician, but it had been difficult to keep it up as a teacher. It seemed a natural decision for him to move into teacher education.

His first position was as a lecturer at the New University of Ulster. Then, in 1983, Mr Everton became head of initial teacher training at Leicester School of Education. Coming from a background in teaching, he saw an advantage in linking university teacher education with school-based training. He encouraged university tutors to work with school mentors, creating a sense of continuity for students.

A physically imposing man, he was an enthusiastic follower of rugby, playing for the local Aylestone athletics club. He was similarly keen on cricket, though his contribution to university matches was primarily motivational.

He had met his wife, Val, when they were sixth-formers. They subsequently raised three daughters, Kate, Jenny and Laura. Domestic life was something Mr Everton valued greatly: stability at home enabled him to plough his emotional energy into academic work.

Nonetheless - possibly because he and Val had met at such a young age - he was very protective of his daughters in their teenage years. On one occasion he insisted on acting as bouncer - in full dinner jacket - at one of their birthday parties, single-handedly warding off undesirable suitors.

In 1992, he was appointed deputy principal of Homerton teacher-training college in Cambridge. Deputy to a self-confessed "complete innumerate", his mathematician's perception of the world once again came to the fore. The principal would outline her aspirations; Mr Everton would visualise them as reality. He viewed the world as a mathematical curve: "Here's how things could look after four years," he would say, or, "Here's what would happen if we changed our number of students."

His background in the classroom meant that he spoke its language. Whenever Homerton was inspected, he was able to engage with Ofsted inspectors on their own terms. The college was subsequently deemed one of the best places in Britain to train as a teacher.

In 2001, all teacher education in Cambridge was merged to create a new faculty of education, with Mr Everton as its head. Attempting to reconcile diverse and competing interests, he was calm and unflappable. The bad feeling inevitably present during such mergers can take decades to dissipate. In Cambridge, things settled down within a few years.

Confronted by a problem - however apparently insurmountable - he would merely sit down and work out a solution. No idea was too outlandish for him, no suggestion beyond consideration. And staff trusted him as he had been both teacher and teacher trainer, so he knew what he was talking about.

He was genuinely interested in the people he worked with. While briefly responsible for undergraduate education at Homerton, he developed a real interest in student sport, attending rowing events as well as a varsity rugby match at Twickenham.

Fond of walking, he and Val had bought a holiday home on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. In 2006, they moved up there permanently and Mr Everton realised a student dream by purchasing his own pub - The Phoenix in York. He had always been fond of a pint of real ale or a glass of red wine; now he set about transforming The Phoenix into a renowned jazz venue.

When the back pain began, he assumed it was the barrel-lifting taking its toll. In fact, it was prostate cancer. Tim Everton died on 24 March, four days before his 60th birthday.

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