Obituary: Laurence Edward Ellis (CR 1955-77)
Laurence Ellis (CR 1955-77) arrived at Marlborough College in 1955 to teach Mathematics after doing National Service with the Green Jackets and reading Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge. Before that he had won a Scholarship to Winchester College where he excelled in Mathematics, Classics and Cross-Country Running and Rowing amongst other sports. It was at school that he developed a passion for solving cryptic crosswords, completing the Times Crossword in the ten minute gap between breakfast and Chapel. He took on this challenge, always against the clock, every day for nearly 70 years and woe betide anyone, be they wife, child, colleague or pupil who interrupted this morning ritual. Music was another important part of his life. He sang in choirs at Marlborough and beyond, played the piano – and occasionally the organ – and was fascinated by the link between music and mathematics.
During his 22 years at Marlborough he taught many generations of aspiring Mathematicians, specialising particularly in preparing pupils for Oxbridge, and was heavily involved in the School Mathematics Project which revolutionised the teaching of A level Mathematics. Indeed, the textbooks were still in use well into the 1990s until the modular model was established. Outside the classroom, he was heavily involved in the CCF, Athletics, the Beagles and Rugby. Legend has it that, on one occasion, when a colleague failed to show up, he refereed two rugby matches simultaneously – surely a unique feat.
His astonishingly logical and creative mind was put to good use when he was asked to take on the difficult matter of writing the school timetable. He ripped up the rulebook in this area and devised a system – written in Greek symbols, of course – which revolutionised the time tabling process. His model was used by many schools until the (seemingly less logical) computer systems became prevalent many years later. His system survived virtually unchanged at Marlborough until the late 1990s when the then Master insisted the symbology be changed as he couldn’t read Greek!
He was the Resident House Tutor in Summerfield when it was attached the Sani – and, more importantly, when a young Barts trained nurse by the name of Elizabeth Ogilvie arrived. Romance soon blossomed and they were married in the College Chapel in 1961. Together they were a very strong team and she played a crucial role pastorally when he was appointed Housemaster of C1 in 1968. He ran the House with genuine compassion and understanding – a product of his strong Christian faith – and instilled the boys in his care with a strong moral code and a sense of service to others. He took immense care over his boys, even driving one of his Heads of House to his home so that he could vote in his first General Election. He knew each boy well and – it seems – the parents: one of his most memorable reports contained the line “J’s many achievements were mainly helped by being the product of healthy parental neglect”. Current parents please take note!
It was inevitable that such an able man was at some point going to leave Marlborough to take up a Headmastership. This he did in 1977, when he took up the post of Rector of The Edinburgh Academy, a job he did with distinction until his retirement in 1992. He and his family enjoyed living in Scotland and took the opportunity to explore the country widely. Retirement brought him back to Wiltshire and they settled in Devizes. He continued to teach Mathematics when needed in various schools and very much enjoyed his role as a Governor at Monkton Combe, Downe House and Clayesmore Schools.
He became a Lay Reader before he was married and preached in churches and schools throughout his adult life. He was a Deanery Treasurer and was secretary of a local charity. His sermons always had a razor sharp message and were delivered with the great dry sense of humour which anyone fortunate enough to have known this extraordinary man will remember fondly.
Sadly his last few years were marred by the onset and progress of Parkinson’s Disease. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and his three children, Jonathan (C3 1975-80), Mary and Simon (Common Room 1993-2017).
Laurence Edward Ellis (CR 1955-77)
21st April 1932 – 7th August 2017
Housemaster C1 1968-77