Michael Mavor: Charismatic headmaster who led Rugby into the co-educational era

Michael Mavor, who died suddenly while on a trip to Peru, was a dynamic and energising headmaster who, throughout the course of a distinguished career, led three of Britain's foremost schools – Gordonstoun, Rugby and Loretto. At each, alongside an outwardly authoritarian approach, he treated all with great courtesy and friendly ease. In turn, one could not help but notice the warm affection and deep respect for him.

Born in Malaysia of Scottish parents, Michael Mavor was educated at Loretto School near Edinburgh. There, in addition to his outstanding academic abilities, he was captain of cricket, hockey and golf, editor of the school paper, pipe major in the band and Head Boy of both junior and senior schools. In 1965 he was awarded an open exhibition to read English at St John's College, Cambridge; he also represented the university at rugby and cricket.

Acquiring a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, in 1969 he began his teaching career in America. Awarded a Woodrow Wilson Teaching Fellowship, for four years he worked at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois. While there, in 1971, he published a volume of study notes on Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews. On his return to England in 1972, he taught English at Tonbridge School. Impressing as a drama producer and sports coach, he won particular distinction when promoted to director of studies.

In January 1979, aged only 31, Mavor succeeded John Kempe as headmaster of Gordonstoun School in Moray, Scotland, the youngest such appointment in the school's history. Assuming responsibility for educating Princes Andrew and Edward, it was inevitable that, before too long, he would be cast into the national spotlight. This duly came in May 1980, when, amid a blaze of publicity, nine boys were summarily expelled for the possession of cannabis. He won plaudits for his skilful handling of a very difficult situation, and his time at the school was marked by a distinct improvement in the school's academic performance. To his great delight, this was achieved without detracting either from the school's distinctive outward-bound capability or its proud tradition of service to the community.

In 1990, he moved south to take on a new challenge as headmaster of Rugby School. Here, amid an institution seemingly out of step with the modern world, his brief was simple: reverse the perceived decline in the school's fortunes, raise academic standards and improve pupil numbers. While he scrupulously respected and valued Rugby's rich history and traditions, he nevertheless proceeded to introduce perhaps the most radical changes to the school since the reforms of Thomas Arnold in the middle of the 19th century. Thus, from September 1993, this bastion of male boarding-school values would begin the inexorable march to full co-education.

However, in 1995, his unexpected promotion of sixth-former Louise Woolcock to be joint Head of School proved a step too far for many. That year, in addition to their banner-waving protests, the boys famously boycotted a chapel service to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mavor's predecessor, Arnold. He was outwardly unperturbed and, undoubtedly aided by Woolcock's deft handling of the media, Mavor's strategy proved an immediate success, applications from prospective parents increasing dramatically.

Amid his burgeoning reputation, it was perhaps inevitable that his sphere of influence should spread beyond his immediate environs. Already a leading light at the influential Oxford Conference in Education and much in demand as a school governor and adviser, in 1997 he was awarded the ultimate accolade when he was elected as chairman of the Headmasters' Conference (HMC). Then, with his customary enthusiasm and panache, he went out of his way to welcome the new Labour Government's embryonic ideas for more productive partnerships with independent education. To his lasting regret, it remained a rare aspiration unfulfilled.

Following 11 successful years in the Midlands, in 2001 he could not resist the lure of a return north of the border to his alma mater, being appointed headmaster of Loretto School. Though it was much smaller than Rugby, many of the problems were the same. Often taking a pragmatic approach to situations, he remained resolute in his belief of the benefits, both social and academic, of a good boarding-school education.

He was a long-standing enthusiast for the International Baccalaureate examination, and among other changes, perhaps his most distinctive came with the innovative creation of the Loretto Golf Academy. Under its auspices, talented young golfers could develop their sporting prowess without detracting from their academic progress.

Addressing the assembled masses on his final day as headmaster in June 2008, he famously illustrated his sermon by driving a golf ball firmly down the aisle of a packed school chapel. Having assessed the health and safety implications of his possible action as "High Risk", typically, he chose to go ahead. This says everything about a man who, at every stage of his life, was at ease with both himself and the career he had chosen. It was this underlying freedom that allowed him to be so generous to all those who may not have been aware of the talent they possessed, but whose full potential he would so resolutely help to realise.

Kenneth Shenton



Michael Barclay Mavor, teacher and headmaster: born Kuala Lipis, Malaysia 29 January 1947; married 1970 Jane Sucksmith (one son, one daughter); CVO 1983; died Lima, Peru 8 December 2009.

Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Arts and Entertainment
Inside the gallery at Frederick Bremer School in Walthamstow
tvSimon Usborne goes behind-the-scenes to watch the latest series
Life and Style
A picture taken on January 12, 2011 shows sex shops at the Paris district of Pigalle.
newsThe industry's trade body issued the moratorium on Friday
News
Winchester College Football (universally known as Winkies) is designed to make athletic skill all but irrelevant
Life...arcane public school games explained
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
Life and Style
Silvia says of her famous creation: 'I never stopped wearing it. Because I like to wear things when they are off the radar'
fashionThe fashion house celebrated fifteen years of the punchy pouch with a weighty tome
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
News
Angelina Jolie with her father Jon Voight
peopleAsked whether he was upset not to be invited, he responded by saying he was busy with the Emmy Awards
News
Bill Kerr has died aged 92
peopleBill Kerr appeared in Hancock’s Half Hour and later worked alongside Spike Milligan and Peter Sellers
News
news It's not just the world that's a mess at the moment...
Sport
footballPremiership preview: All the talking points ahead of this weekend's matches
News
Keira Knightley poses topless for a special September The Photographer's issue of Interview Magazine, out now
people
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Algo-Developer (BDD/TDD, ASP.NET, JavaScript, RX)

£45000 - £69999 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Algo-Develo...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, Apache Mahout, Python,R,AI)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Data Scientist (SQL,Data mining, data modelling, PHD, AI)

£50000 - £80000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: Data Sci...

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone