Each year a sea of new faces arrives at school, ready to take their first steps into being part of our thriving community. Then, at the end of each year, we say goodbye to a number of individuals who are leaving us to enter the next chapter of their lives. This is the nature of life in a school, and whether we are welcoming or bidding farewell to pupils or staff, our population is constantly evolving. We like to think that everyone who passes through our school leaves their mark behind – their own unique part of our story. Every now and then, however, schools are lucky enough to have someone in their world who leaves a legacy for many years to come.

Donald Wynn Hughes was born in Southport in 1911. He was educated at The Perse School, Cambridge, and became a Scholar of Emmanuel College, gaining a First in English. He went on to become Senior English Master and a Housemaster at The Donald Hughes Leys School (1935-46) before moving to North Wales to become Headmaster of Rydal School in Colwyn Bay.

Donald Hughes quickly earned the respect of the Common Room, and of the boys in his care. His enthusiastic interest in all areas of school life helped to strengthen the community, and whether he is remembered pacing the touch line at rugby matches, enjoying a cricket match or teaching English in the classroom (he never taught fewer than 15 lessons a week), he is remembered with great affection and appreciation. During the 21 years he was Headmaster of Rydal School he touched the lives of a huge number of people. My colleagues and I have had the pleasure of talking to several Old Boys about him, and it is not uncommon for them, even now, to have a tear in their eye as they reminisce. They talk about a great teacher, with an ability to stimulate the mind and illuminate his subject for pupils of all abilities, of his concern for others, his keen sense of humour, his selflessness, his wisdom and his faith. He was respected and approachable, and held in high regard as both a Headmaster and a friend. We are told that in discussions with prefects, ‘he seemed to be seeking your advice but was really offering you his.’ This was a man who, during the formal opening ceremony for the newly built swimming pool in 1964, removed his jacket and shoes and jumped in the water. What better way to declare a swimming pool open than Head first!

He was a talented writer, and in my office I have a box full of his handwritten notes, sermons, speeches, and many poems and humorous verses, often jotted down on the back of a school compliment slip or whatever scrap of paper he had to hand when inspiration struck. The Batsman’s Bride, ‘a kind of respectful parody of the immortal Gilbert and Sullivan’, with music by Percy Heywood, was performed on the BBC in 1955 and again in 1980, and is still in the repertoire of amateur operatic societies. The great G&S commentator, Ian Bradley, has a high regard for the piece, not least because it marked his first appearance on stage, at prep school in 1961.

Donald Hughes was a gifted speaker and was much in demand at conferences. He spoke and wrote with authority on education and was greatly valued by fellow Headteachers. Sir Desmond Lee, Headmaster of Winchester and three times Chairman of HMC, wrote a clearly heartfelt foreword to Percy Heywood’s Memoir, Donald Hughes Headmaster. Despite the fact that their paths crossed largely at conferences and meetings, not always opportunities to get to know people well, ‘the sharp edge and pungency’ of Donald’s interventions were memorable. ‘He was not, he said, a good Committee man; but he was extremely good for those committees on which he served.’ ‘Above all he was a person. Personality is an elusive thing … but some indication of the value his colleagues placed on him is given by the invitation extended to him to allow his name to go forward for election as Chairman of the Conference for 1968.’ His reasons for refusing no doubt included some reservations about the nature of this post, but ‘his own doubts about his health and his Doctor’s categorical negative could not be gainsaid, and were sadly confirmed by his accident and death. It was characteristic that he described that accident by saying that, feeling unwell, he pulled into a lay-by and ‘forgot to stop’. His ability to laugh at all things, including himself, was an integral part of him, and of the affection in which he was held by others.’

On the last day of the Summer Term in 1967, Donald Hughes delivered a sermon to the school, closing with the words, ‘It is within the power of us all to realise our true selves, not by greed and self-seeking, but in the service of our God and of our fellow men.’ His sudden death during the Summer holidays that followed was a shock to the Rydal family, as well as to the wider educational community. Tributes flooded in, not just from staff, pupils and parents, but also from fellow Headteachers and the Methodist Church. Many Old Boys can tell you the exact moment that they heard the news, such was the shock and impact that it had.

Donald Hughes was an incredible Head, and an incredible man, and he was a major figure in the local area. Outside school he became a Justice of the Peace, was Chairman of the Colwyn Bay Rotary Club, President of the North Wales Cricket Association and a member of the local Hospital Management Committee. He was also an active member of the Liberal party, then a significant force in North Wales. But his greatest influence was in the school.

Many Heads will be familiar with occasions where parents have entered their study to discuss their financial situation. Perhaps the family has fallen on hard times, businesses are in trouble, or there are health problems which have led to them struggling to pay the fees. It may be that they are at the point where they have to withdraw their child from the school. These were the days before the school had a bursary or hardship fund, but Donald Hughes would often find a way to ensure that the child could continue to be educated at Rydal. It was only after his death that this information became public knowledge.

Put simply, Donald Hughes changed lives.

In 1970 a fund was set up in his name to continue the benevolent work that he started, and the school, now known as Rydal Penrhos School, has recently launched a fundraising campaign to raise funds for fully funded places in recognition of him and to honour his vision that no child should miss out on the opportunity to have an outstanding education.

Donald Hughes left his mark in more ways than one. His legacy continues, not just within the walls of Rydal Penrhos, but in the lives of those who knew him, whether they were pupils, staff, members of the Methodist congregation or fellow Heads and educationalists. His legacy lives on in those who benefited so greatly from his quiet generosity, and now in those who are inspired to continue to support others in his name.

This is perhaps best summed up by a Governor, who wrote in 1967, ‘I do not grieve for Donald. The School will be his best memorial. He has lived for it and in many ways he will continue to live in it during the years to come.’