Why I Give
My starting point at the RGS was in 1952 at 11 years old. My family lived across the river in Low Fell. As it must have been for many new starters, it was quite an experience to come from a small local school and suddenly find yourself among hundreds of pupils of all ages, in an environment with imposing buildings and an extensive sports area.
In the 50s, you encountered boys; yes, it was entirely boys at that time, from Durham, South Shields, Tynemouth, Jarrow, Shotley Bridge, Blaydon, and a host of other places. The school certainly provided an output for self-expression in areas we had barely heard about, let alone had the opportunity in which to participate.
The sports programme throughout the school years was incomparable, slogging around the Town Moor being a major feature. One of the activities that really got us together was the School Camps held in Race Week. I went to Wensleydale and Littondale, and later, to a survey camp on the Isle of Eigg. Many of the teachers spent their holiday time supervising these camps, assisted by ONs. How invigorating the camps were, the long walks during the day to appreciate the beautiful countryside, and the camp fires in the evenings. Many of those boys are still close friends today and how priceless that is.
One of the most striking aspects of the school was the quality and dedication of the teachers. They were an extraordinary group of individuals whose teaching was stimulating and proficient. Not only were there core subjects, but we were fortunate in having options such as Woodwork, with Bill Elliot (52-88). We first made towel rails and then progressed to bookcases. One boy made a complete hash of a fine piece of wood: “What are you doing boy, wood doesn’t grow on trees you know!”
One of our Summer Holiday assignments in Geography under Laurence Meaken (31-74) was to carry out a survey of our home area. Three of us went around every company in the Low Fell Trading Estate: floor tiles, glass, carpets, engineering, Hunters the Bakers and De La Rue. It opened our eyes to the working world. In the last day or two of each term it was the tradition to do something recreational. Once,Colin Hunter (48-76) brought in his record player and put on some classical music for us to listen to; he was trying to get us to appreciate something he obviously loved himself. MG Robinson (34-72) our English Teacher was a master of benign sarcasm.
One day in class I was squinting through the window, lining up a tree with a lamppost. Suddenly, I was interrupted by MG saying, “Walker, would you kindly read us the second verse of the poem we are studying; of course, when you have finished your optical experiments!” Jimmy Herdman (22-66), French Teacher, used to vacation in Corsica in the Summer Holidays, and would tell us stories of the local life, transporting us to an exotic world. In the Sixth Form, I was fortunate to take Engineering Drawing under Colin Dales (50-84). I still have some of those drawings with three projections. Little did I know that designing things would be something I would still be doing 60 years later, the only difference being that I now use CAD software rather than a drawing board, pencil, compass, and protractors.
After the second year in the Sixth Form, I took the Cambridge University entrance exams which required staying for another term. Several teachers helped make it worthwhile: MG Robinson with Poetry lessons, Cecil Marfitt-Smith (32-70) teaching about Picasso and how to paint posters, and ‘Willy’ B Macro (36-62) teaching extra Maths.
I was accepted to Cambridge University to read Mechanical Sciences and still have the vision of going there for the very first time and seeing all those ancient college buildings. Even when I visit today, there is still a magic about it. After Cambridge, I spent three years as an Engineering Apprentice at George Angus (now Dunlop) on the Coast Road, then did a PhD at Leeds University on the Lubrication of Human Joints. I was then recruited by a Surgeon from the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, where I started designing artificial joints. After that I worked at other prominent institutions in the USA and England. My present and probably final job is Professor at New York University, with positions in Orthopaedics and Mechanical Engineering.
This year, I had the honour of receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award from the USA Knee Society. Looking back, the experience at the RGS provided a solid foundation for a Cambridge education and for my subsequent career. Last year, my wife Wuliang and I visited the RGS. Wuliang, who came from an academic background in Beijing, studied Molecular Biology, and worked at a research faculty at New York University was very impressed with the school.
For me, remembering what the RGS was like when I was there, the changes that had occurred seemed remarkably progressive. Wuliang and I are more than pleased to make a donation to the Bursary Campaign. We hope that our gift can support talented students of tomorrow to receive the type of education at RGS that I so much benefited from.
I provided some bursaries way back, indeed before the official launch of the Bursary Campaign. It’s not widely known because at the time I chose for my gift to be anonymous, but I don’t mind revealing this now if it encourages others to contribute.
Here’s how it came about.
I attended the first ON Newcastle dinner shortly after the Blair government scrapped the Assisted Places scheme, it was the first time I’d been back to the school since I left in 1970*.
In his speech, the headmaster, James Miller, told us about how this decision would impact the RGS. He was very worried. A substantial proportion of the school intake benefited from that scheme, which enabled bright boys from poorer backgrounds to come to the school. I was shocked by the effect it would have not just on the school, but on the North East as a whole: RGS pupils made such an important contribution to life in the region at every level, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like if only the children of the rich flowed through in the future. When I was at the RGS, it was a direct grant grammar school and without that support my parents could never have sent me there. Most of my friends from that time benefitted from grants too.
After the dinner, I took James aside and offered to provide bursaries for 3 boys for their entire 7 year schooling. In return, I had three conditions: my gifts would be anonymous; I wanted copies of all their school reports so I could see how they were getting on; finally, the RGS should establish a Bursary scheme with the aim of providing bursaries to at least 97 more children, making 100 in all. Funding would cease if the school failed to do this. James agreed.
I still have some of their school reports. One even wrote me the sweetest thank-you note when he eventually left the school for a very good university (I don’t think he ever knew my name, but I treasure the letter).
I also have a letter from James dated October 2000, enclosing the boys’ reports, where he promised that “raising enough money for bursaries is going to be a major objective in the next few years”. The ON Bursary Campaign was launched after that.
*I was with two ON friends (neither of them were actually at school with me - between us we spanned 21 years at the RGS). On a whim, we had dared each other to go to the dinner — it was the first time back for all of us. We spent a wild weekend staying in the Copthorne (I know, ‘wild’ and ‘Copthorne’ are not frequently used in the same sentence), driving around our old haunts - getting misty eyed over the sight of the Long Pier at Tynemouth, the locations of our first trysts with reluctant girlfriends, — we behaved like naughty schoolboys. Paul Campbell was one of those friends, and the trip clearly had an effect on him, for he upped sticks from London and moved his family back to Northumberland, started a business in Gateshead and became an RGS governor. I stayed down south, went to Hollywood, and only returned to Newcastle ten years later (I’m back working in California now).
I have given to the RGS Bursary Campaign since it began in 2002.
I was educated here myself as a student from 1973 to 1974 when the Direct Grant system was in operation. Without the grant my Dad would not have been able to afford my place.
To be honest, I came aged 8 as a Geordie Gateshead boy with a few chips on his shoulder about the rich kids he was mixing with! The Junior School years were difficult but I found my feet and then came to immensely appreciate the teaching I received, the brilliant people I met and the opportunities I was given. I experienced what the Bidding at the old Founder’s Service spoke of – staff with ‘understanding hearts and love of sound learning’.
So, I partly give to the Bursary Campaign out of nostalgic gratitude for what the RGS did for me and the desire for members of the Geordie tribe in a similar situation to mine to experience the same.
As someone who leans somewhat to the left politically I have some reservations about the independent system and see the point in critiques such as those of the Sutton Trust about entrenched elitism. It would be great, would it not, if all schools could provide an RGS quality of education appropriate to the needs of its students?
But this is not an ideal world in any way and while things are as they are, I believe access to the RGS for the materially less well off needs to be maintained. A 21st Century school with as broad a social mix as in my Direct Grant days will be more balanced for all concerned and go a little way to aiding social mobility. The Bursary Campaign helps to facilitate this.
I can’t be all that anti private schools, as I have worked at RGS in some incarnation or another for 40 years. Staff do not
generally know which students are on bursaries and rightly so. Having said that, sometimes we do get to know and I have
often been struck by how much bursary students appreciate being here and make the most of their time. Some of
their stories are published in ONA Magazine and they make moving and inspiring reading.
The RGS in 2019 is a different beast from the one I joined in 1963. However, it is still a great place and can still claim to be – in the words of the now defunct School Song – the ‘School of the North’ and potentially a ‘Mother and Maker of men (sic)’. I give to the Bursary Campaign to help enable young people to access the
opportunities it affords.
From 2000 to 2007, I was given a gift - an education at Newcastle Royal Grammar School.
Coming from a single parent family, my Mum wanted to give me the best possible education, but couldn't afford the full school fees. After successfully passing the entrance examination and interview, and with thanks to the generosity of Sir Peter Ogden (through The Ogden Trust) and The Hospital of St Mary the Virgin Trust, I received a bursary which allowed me to enter RGS.
This may be the first time that many of my peers reading this will be aware that I was the beneficiary of a bursary, but I am so grateful and proud that I was able to be educated at RGS. Not only was the quality of education exceptional, I was given responsibilities, and gained a confidence and self-respect which I do not believe I would have gained elsewhere. This confidence and awareness of my abilities and the opportunities open to me in life; have been the foundation of my career to date.
Now, eight years after leaving the School and successfully passing an Economics degree at Newcastle University, I work for True Potential, a Newcastle-based financial advice network with 420 advisers around the UK, as a Compliance Officer - one of a team of three staff tasked with assessing the suitability of high risk business to protect both clients and the company. My previous role at another Newcastle-based financial advice firm was as an Investment Analyst, with oversight of £100 million of client assets and managing a research service with over 10,000 users. Last summer, I was told that I had the most impressive CV the interviewer - a senior manager at a large accountancy firm - had seen from anyone under thirty.
RGS instilled in me a work ethic which has been reflected in my career achievements to date. None of this would have been possible without the quality of the education I received at RGS, and RGS would not have been a possibility for me without the offer of a bursary.
Collectively, the Old Novocastrians could make a huge difference to someone's education and life, and I sincerely hope that you will join me in making a donation, however small, to allow another young person, just like me, to be given the opportunity of a life-time.