James Harper, (third from left, back row) with some Woodbridge Scouts
James joined Woodbridge School in 1968 and retired in 1992 as Deputy Head. He taught French and Latin, and in the 1980s he became Housemaster of the VIth form boys’ house.
James was born in south London but was evacuated to Devon at the start of the war. For a time he attended Bideford Grammar School, and then returned to Bromley Grammar School before national service in the Royal Air Force. In retirement he employed his renowned mastery of detail by re-ordering the library at the RAF Club in Pall Mall. After leaving the RAF James worked as a civil servant reaching the rank of Principal (now Team Leader) before he felt a strong vocation to teach. During his time in the civil service he had been awarded a PhD in early French language and philosophy at Birkbeck University, and in 1966 was appointed by Woodbridge School Headmaster John Rolland to teach French.
James taught languages to a high level but equally enjoyed a strong commitment to School’s Scout Troop and a passion for photography. In his approach to school life James exemplified Scouting’s key values of integrity, respect, care and belief. Since his death many former pupils have spoken warmly of the support he gave them through the scouting movement, and the influence it had on their career choice.
Former teaching colleagues recall his insistence on punctuality and the high professional standards. Detail was important. He is remembered with great affection by those who knew him in his later years, not least for his charming conversation, his immaculate sartorial style and his love of classical music. Ros Kamaryc, who was appointed as a co-Deputy Head and who worked closely with James in his final years at Woodbridge commented that “James had a mischievous sense of humour as well as a sharp wit. His speech was crisp and precise, but this belied an inner warmth and genuine kindness. James was one of a kind and it was a privilege to work with him and to learn from him – I was very fond of him.”
James was a committed Christian with a strong faith. When he left Woodbridge School he was asked by the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea to work in education ministry in the country. After four years he returned to Woodbridge, was appointed an Elder and server at St Mary’s Church, and regularly led services for the residents of the (then) Seckford Almshouses.
James died on 15 April from Covid-19, after living with dementia for several years. Retired Headmaster Stephen Cole and former School House Housemaster Tony Waller, coincidentally both fellow Elders at St Mary’s, attended the very small funeral in Nacton. Stephen added “ Sadly the coronavirus that ended James’ life also prevented him having the funeral that he had wanted, and it is hoped that a memorial service/requiem will be held at St Mary’s when that is possible. I arrived a couple of years after James’ retirement, but his reputation as a meticulous deputy with high expectation was still legendary. Through his strong faith he recognised the concept of servant leadership, and Woodbridge pupils were richer for the loyal commitment he showed in his quarter of a century at the school.”