Old Farnhamians' Association

George Baxter MBE



1st August 1913 to 5th January 2005

Headmaster of Farnham Grammar School 1953 to 1971

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Thanksgiving Service Held at St Andrew’s Church, Farnham

on 14th January, 2005

 

Farnham’s Parish Church was full for the Thanksgiving Service that was held to celebrate the life of George Baxter. This page is reserved as a celebration of an exceptional man to whom hundreds of Old Farnhamians owe a great debt of gratitude.

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Eulogies Recorded
at the
Thanksgiving Service

Rev D.K. Jameson     Col Robin Crawford     Rev Andrew Tuck

These are wma files that should play automatically in Windows Media Player or Real Player if you also have broadband.
If your internet connection is too slow to allow streaming audio, you can save the files and then listen to them
(right click, Save target as…, then navigate to a folder for saving.)


We thank Peter Wisbey (1951 – 1957) for making these recordings

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Photos of George in Earlier Years

        
 

 Click on photos to enlarge, back to return  

We thank George’s family for making these photographs available  

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Farewell Speech made at a School Assembly
in December 1970


Click here

Sound archive file posted 23 January 2009
1.4 Mb MP3 file

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Tributes from Old Boys

By Ian Sargeant (1955 – 1962)

Following the announcement of George Baxter’s death sent to our web members, I received an email from Royston Snart (1954 – 1961) who says that to him, as a small boy starting at Farnham Grammar School in 1954, George Baxter seemed “like a giant. A big man as solid and seemingly permanent as the school buildings themselves”.

This sums up the view of all new boys in those days. The head was an awe-inspiring person in the 1950s. Extremely good looking (according to our mothers), he was a tall man with an upright bearing, whose black gown would ripple as he strode. His most impressive stride was a daily event as he entered a hushed school hall for the morning assembly. The school captain, whose duty it was to arrange for all boys to be in their required ranks, would descend from the rostrum and headmaster and head boy would bow to each other as the assembly was solemnly handed from one to the other.

A hymn, robustly sung if it was a favourite, was followed by a reading and set prayers, read by Mr Baxter and rotated at his choice. They included prayers such as the General Thanksgiving and the Prayer of St Francis but also a special School Prayer which gave thanks for the benefactors of the school.

With the brief act of worship complete, there might be announcements, which could be good or bad news. Perhaps news of some great attainment by a present boy or old boy of the school or, occasionally, news of some bad behaviour or disgrace that had occurred and would be, or probably had been, dealt with. After the departure of the head, other announcements would be made and the school would dismiss to first period lessons. This daily ritual stamped both the role and the personality of George Baxter on the minds of  the entire school.

Farnham Grammar School in the 1950s was a different world from today’s school or college. It was a place with a particular structure and a hierarchy of staff and pupils. The headmaster was at the summit of a pyramid with seemingly unchallengeable power. George Baxter filled that position consummately and dispensed his power in a discerning way. He alone could cane boys, and he certainly did so when he felt it was merited. He probably made mistakes in such decisions, but broadly speaking it never seemed that the beatings we knew of were serious miscarriages of justice by the disciplinary code of those days.

Unfortunately, I never had the chance in recent years to ask him if he had revised his views on the wisdom of corporal punishment. John Crotty and I were planning a filmed interview with George just before he had the illness that eventually took him. He had agreed to this and corporal punishment was a matter he was going to discuss with us.

George Baxter seemed to us to be greatly respected by his staff. Of course, they really had little choice but to respect the authority he had. Not very many seemed to leave FGS other than to retire or go to more senior jobs. He inherited an excellent team from his predecessor, F.A. Morgan, and he built well on it. The school offered a good curriculum, though for many years it sadly lacked facilities for natural sciences. Consequently, up to the 1960s FGS produced only a few aspiring doctors but a good number of accountants, bankers, lawyers, mathematicians, physicists etc. The little biology that was taught to selected boys was by George himself as he was the only qualified teacher of this subject until September 1962.

It was a great advantage that FGS was a relatively small school. George made sure that he got to know every boy by taking a period of English with the first form and we all recall the way he manoeuvred the lessons to a set of periods in which he revealed the secrets of human reproduction, to ensure that every pupil had knowledge of the basic facts. At sixth form, he took a weekly period of comparative religion in order to give us some understanding of both religion and ethics. As a teacher, he held your attention by being very clear and allowing some laughter (but not too much).

It is to the credit of George Baxter that he encouraged music, through his strong support of Alan Fluck, that creative and innovative music master who had been appointed just before George arrived on the scene. As a result, FGS produced many keen musicians and a few outstanding ones. George was not a musician himself, but enjoyed music, saw the value of nurturing it and was proud of the musical achievements in the school and by individual boys.

Did George enjoy his job? My view is that he found it both very challenging and stressful even though he appeared to us to be completely in control. He seemed somewhat aloof to us in our school days, but that was completely normal at that time – informal pupil-teacher relationships and the use of first names were still decades away.

George himself recounted to some of us a few years ago how, in the 1970s, he had been in Farnham and an old boy from the 1950s had suddenly seen him and said “Hallo George” in a loud voice. He was taken aback not to be addressed as “Mr Baxter” or “Sir”, but realised that things were changing. He went along with such changes and, in later years, he became very relaxed and informal with his former pupils.

George succeeded the legendary F.A. Morgan, who had been the dominant force in FGS for decades. Since Mr Morgan, when he retired, only moved about 300 yards from School House to Greenfield Road, George “benefited” from his advice in the early years. In fact, as a relatively young headmaster, George was in a tricky position in those early years as FAM was a very frequent visitor until his death in 1957.

A few years before George resigned from FGS in 1971 to join the Surrey Schools Council, he moved from School House to a nearby house in Longley Road. Recalling the way his early years had been cramped by having his predecessor looking over his shoulder, he told Paul French that he was always available to discuss any matter on which he could be of help, but he would not be getting in the way by making unannounced visits to the school. Thus began a very cordial relationship between the Baxters and the Frenchs, even though the style and approach of the two headmasters was different in many respects.

George was very keen to perpetuate the traditions of FGS and was a very strong supporter of the OFA. He probably did as much as anyone in recent years to ensure the strong survival of our association by his regular attendance at our meetings whilst his health permitted it. He said at a recent annual dinner that he knew of hardly any defunct grammar schools that still had such an active association. It was clear that this was another matter of considerable pride to him and all old boys owe him a great debt for that.

George was a great family man. He was absolutely devoted to his wife Peggy, who died quite suddenly in 1991, and it has been apparent to many of us in recent years that he yearned to be reunited with her. But of course he also cherished his own children and the grandchildren and great grandchildren that he lived to see. He was still very glad to be alive.

When I returned to Farnham in 1992, after living abroad for almost 24 years, I was pleased to find that we were living near George and meeting him at local concerts and OFA events. He became a friend and we both enjoyed recalling school days. I visited George in hospital and his care home in the last months of his life and it was, of course, sad to see his decline. His self-awareness remained good and his short term memory deteriorated, but his memory of the old times remained clear.

The death of George Baxter is a significant event for me and approximately 1500 other old boys of Farnham Grammar School who passed through his care. This was a man who played an important part in forming our personalities. He not only educated us but left his imprint on many by helping to define the values that motivated us in the years since leaving school.

When we talk of our ambition to “make a difference to the world” this can only mean making a difference to the lives of other people. Success can only be measured in terms of what that difference is and how many people are affected. On this basis, George Baxter had a very successful life and we, the old boys of the school, benefited greatly from it.

God bless you, George!

20 January, 2005

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More Tributes

click here

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