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
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices