Alan Sillitoe (YG 1955)
21 March 2022
Old Scholars' will be saddened to hear the news of the death of Alan Sillitoe (YG 1955) in November 2021. Alan was at the school between 1947 and 1955. I received the following account of Alan's life, which is an edited version of the appreciation read at his funeral, written by his wife, Elaine Sillitoe and family. Alan lived in Guildford with his parents and sister Ruth until he went to Friends' School Saffron Walden after the death of his mother when he was 9. Friends' influenced him and gave him a secure, principled base and according to his friend, Robert Dunston (YG 1955), he worked hard and was active in sports, playing for the football team and being the fastest sprinter in the year. Alan was also active in the choir.Though he worked hard, there were also lapses: Alan and Robert cycled to London to visit Robert’s mother (quite against school rules, of course) but there was no-one at home. On another occasion three of them hitched to Cambridge but had to walk back 15 miles because no-one gave them a lift. They were subsequently gated for two weeks by the Headmaster.After finishing school National Service was still compulsory, but he followed his father in being a conscientious objector and had to go before a tribunal to register in an alternative service. He chose to work as a porter at St Thomas’s Hospital which was a very valuable broadening experience – and, when he was a night porter, was able to read widely. During that time, he lived and took part in the work of the Methodist Bermondsey Settlement. A year later he went to read Sociology at Nottingham University. He was very involved in the Student Union, was editor of the university student newspaper and a member of the university debating team. At the end of his second year his father died unexpectedly when Alan was only 23. Ruth says they overlapped as students for one year, and the gap of age disappeared. He took over the role of mentor, supporting her and advising her on everything. He was always very helpful, coming each time she moved house to put up shelves etc. – and she moved a lot!After university he and two friends travelled in a Dormobile across Europe, reaching Lebanon and Israel. For complicated frontier reasons they had to buy certificates from the Embassy verifying they were Christians. In Turkey they were woken by soldiers with guns: it turned out they were camping on an army range.He became a sociology lecturer, first at Kingston Poly and then Goldsmith’s, University of London. He gave clear, well organised and presented lectures and I am told had good relations with both staff and students: he took a leading role in the department. He lectured at summer school at McMaster University, Hamilton (near Toronto). Elaine and he made friends there, and have seen them over the years. The work gave money for them to enjoy trips across Canada and the States on three occasions.Alan, at this point, took a completely new direction. He was always interested in sport and he became the first Sports Officer that Camden Council had ever had; his job was to encourage all forms of sporting activities. He was in the vanguard of making activities available to the disadvantaged. The Town Hall was a completely different experience and he had to adjust. He had a stressful start as Elaine’s father suddenly died just as Alan was organising his first major borough-wide event.He then moved to the Sports Council. He started with responsibility for an inner London area and rural Surrey. The job then changed and he headed the region’s Facilities Team, bringing the Technical Unit’s expertise to Surrey. According to his former Director, he is well remembered by local authority officers who have spoken highly of him. This is confirmed by David Gell who was the recreation officer of Waverley Borough Council. He wrote: “Alan Sillitoe helped and supported – and genuinely made a difference to hundreds of individuals, clubs and organisations. I was just one of many he willingly gave his wisdom, guidance and encouragement to. His work and helpful attitude was greatly appreciated and on behalf of all he dealt with – THANK YOU ALAN”Sports Council colleagues have also sent messages, e.g.: “I have always enjoyed his wry sense of humour and valued his well-considered advice and judgement.” Other messages have included very consistent comments, such as: “Taught me so much, was always kind and considerate”: “He was such a nice guy and great to work with”: “So kind and helpful, a lovely man”.He ended as acting Regional Director. In retirement he continued to work - as a consultant and was also an assessor for both Sports Lottery and Football Foundation grants. Life at this time centred around the children.He’d been a keen tennis player with a devastating backhand. He continued into retirement, but regretted that he had more time he physically required more recovery time. He continued, of course at a lower standard, until he was 80. He joined Barnes Choir, and was a committed member for many years (bass) until his increasing deafness put a stop to his singing. He’d been responsible for booking venues and setting them up for performances.He took up painting, which he hadn’t done since school. He was enraged when his art class at Castelnau Library was cancelled by Richmond Council although fully subscribed. He persuaded the Council to rent him the room and equipment, engaged tutors and organised outside venues in the summer, and the self-organised class is still going! He was the pivot contact for a group who met weekly at Kew Gardens. He was a stalwart member of the History of Art WEA course and a reliable committee member. He regretted that his Parkinson’s, which had started slowly, progressed more quickly in recent years and stopped him pursuing these activities.In his life he was appreciated for a wide variety of qualities: his sound judgement, calm approach and sensitive relations with a wide variety of people; his sense of fairness and consideration; his wide knowledge and interests; his loyalty. He earned great and well-deserved respect.