On Saturday March 21st, 2015 I had the great honour of giving a tribute at my late Latin and Ancient Greek teacher’s memorial service. He was an octogenarian when he retired and, indeed when he taught me for my GCSE and A Level exams. Though he was a private man who mostly kept himself to himself and his humour in check (before pupils, at least it seems!), Mr David Horton was a genteel and amiable soul to write about and to recall in front of – I believe – a hundred or so ex-pupils, former colleagues and old schoolmates. Two others preceded my brief eulogy, including one of Mr Horton’s first Classics students whereas I was his last proper Classics pupil at Chigwell School. Mine was the shortest reflecting the time in which I knew the man himself but I am led to believe it had a measure eloquence and wit about it…a tall order considering that only a few hours before I was throwing up and passing out in a bathroom, bruising my arm on a cleaning bucket in the process!
I find social speaking and public speaking nigh-on impossible now, but to speak for such a man, a teacher I hold up as the best example of what I should aim to be, was a privilege had I passed it up, the nightmares truly would have never stopped. For those of you who deem that last statement hyperbolic, even if you did not know the person intimately, when you feel the loss of a hero or admired figure whom you know you will spend the rest of your life emulating and trying to replicate in the hope of being just as good but knowing full well that you’ll be lucky to be a third as good, your mind does seep through the cracks into the darkness percolating below.
So, I can truly say I will miss Mr Christopher David Horton and I will forever treasure the gift of learning and knowledge he gave me during the final years of his long lifetime.
And now…I have recorded below a 98% accurate transcript of my speech, should you be curious, should you be needing it someday.
Good afternoon, everyone.
Now, I have many memories of one of the greatest inspirations to me, David Horton, all of which come from my Ancient Greek GCSE lessons where it was just him and me in a room in Radley’s Yard during lunchtimes, or band rehearsals and concerts where he would play the trombone, or even A level lessons where he taught a class of three pupils about Tacitus and the uses of the gerundive – a tough task, which I can now fully appreciate as a Classics-Teacher-to-Be – and finally, the chapel services where he played the organ.
Before I launch into an encomium, I would like to just share one anecdote with you all that in my view sums up the man that was David Horton. Let me take you back to my GCSE year when Mr Horton was around eighty and I was the only student of Ancient Greek. He used to teach me unseens and prose composition, two of the things I found most difficult and therefore made for difficult lesson time. Now, back when I was a less PC and tactful person, I just had to tell Mr Lord that I didn’t want to have Mr Horton as a teacher anymore. When he was shocked to hear this, he asked me why I didn’t want a teacher willing to devote his lunch hour to teaching me, my answer was that during that hour, only the two of us were in Radley’s Yard. This worried me because I was scared that if Mr Horton had a heart attack I’d be the only one there with no idea how to help. This did make Mr Lord laugh but he informed me that Mr Horton was still driving and teaching so he would be around long after I took my GCSE’s. What I was not expecting was that this exchange reached the ears of my Greek teacher and all he could do was laugh and in the next lesson told me to pay more attention to my genitive absolutes instead of his health. A classicist’s humour but a good sense of humour nonetheless…
I could relate the intricacies of the lessons, and how I’m pretty sure that Mr Horton knew every word in the Ancient Greek and Latin lexica, but that would be a poor tribute for the man who had higher value than the syllabus allowed. For, it’s not the learned Tacitus or the grasped past participle which is what I remember from Mr Horton’s time as my teacher. The inspiration and fond memory came from the incredible life he lived, spending as much of it – as I believe is almost humanly possible – in Chigwell School both as a pupil and subsequently as a Classics master.
I asked Mr Horton once if he had a favourite student and – not entirely to my surprise – he replied that it is the current Head of Classics, Mr Chris Lord, who was his pupil when he too was at Chigwell. As both attended the same college at Oxford and then returned to this unique school to teach Classics, I cannot help but see Mr Horton as the beginning of the pathway that is guiding me through my life and that is the greatest gift any teacher or anyone for that matter, can give a fellow human being or student. Thanks to the role Mr Horton played in my life, showing me that teaching can be both a career, a vocation and a lifestyle choice, I am now on track to be a Classics teacher. I will conclude by saying that Mr Horton was a substantial part of the Classics teaching staff at this school and because of his example, his life’s work for Chigwell School, I am finding and making a way to one day carry on the tradition he began here and do it the justice he deserves as a superlative teacher and it is an honour to speak about him to all the people who came today to remember him, which is more of a testament to his memory than my words could ever give.
Finally, I will offer some words by Cicero, seeing as this is a memorial service for a Latin teacher: vita mortuorum in memoria est posita vivorum. That is: the life of the dead is placed on the memories of the living.