Brian Wallis (CR 1969-97)
Brian was born in Leeds in 1939 and brought up living above a bicycle shop run by his mother. Passing the 11+ exam, he went to Batley Grammar, from where he won a State Scholarship to go on to university. Later diagnosed with dyslexia, he failed to pass an O level in a foreign language which limited entry to only two universities in the country – and Hull, being in Yorkshire, was the more attractive option!
Brian read Chemistry and, after graduation, continued at Hull to complete a diploma in education. Unsure about a commitment to the classroom, he was advised to consider research at Cambridge. Invited to an interview with Sir Alexander Todd to pursue the idea further, BW was asked whether he was aware that the Australians were currently playing the University at Fenners. “Yes” came his reply, “but, more importantly, Yorkshire is playing at Hull!” Despite this (or, perhaps, because of it!) Brian was accepted for a doctorate under Prof Alan Katritsky.
Brian and Gill, who had met while doing their “Dip Eds”, got married in 1962. After being awarded his doctorate, Brian was appointed as a Chemistry teacher at Norwich School. A desire to travel later led to a move to the US with a teaching post at Culver Military Academy and holiday road trips across the continent. When they decided to return to the UK, the College was fortunate to persuade the Wallis’s to come to Marlborough in September 1969. Even before his arrival, BW made an impact: faced with a letter enquiring, amongst other things, whether he would like to teach R.E. for two periods a week, he promptly replied with the direct, witty and accurate riposte: “For GOD’s sake, NO!”
It was clear from the outset that BW was both a talented chemist and gifted teacher and the reasons for the latter could not be clearer: he was fascinated by his subject and had an infectious desire to communicate his enthusiasm to others. It is not surprising that BW is remembered affectionately by many of his ex-students and that his exam results were always excellent. Whether he was teaching a top or bottom set, he could bring out the best in nearly everyone and some of his achievements were spectacular.
Outside the classroom, BW was a man for all seasons, an able athlete, a demon bowler, a wily soccer player for Common Room and an energetic CCF assistant. Later he turned his full attention to badminton, a sport for which his deliberately underplayed athleticism, alloyed with a wicked sense of humour and great cunning made him admirably suited — as many generations of boys, girls, beaks and staff will testify to their cost!
It was not long before successive Masters harnessed BW’s administrative abilities too. John Dancy gave BW responsibility for managing the academic teaching timetable while later Roger Ellis extended this by making him the first Director of Studies. With this huge job came invitations to serve on committees including those to advise on the introduction of full co-education and the re-structuring of the working week.
At all this BW was a tremendous success and there were those who wondered why he never turned his talents to housemastering. He was invited to become a HM but declined on the grounds that he did not wish to submit his family to the pressures involved. He would have made a wonderful HM but one has to respect his reason for turning this challenge down. As it was, over the years, A2, B1, Summerfield and Barton Hill had reason to be grateful to him for much staunch house tutoring.
By 1980 BW moved on to become Head of Chemistry and then Director of Science, guiding the Science department safely through tremendous curricular changes as well as the refurbishment of the building. Most normal people would have found these tasks quite enough to satisfy their energies, but BW was denied any respite, as Common Room voted him in as President in 1991. For the next five years he gave unstintingly of his time to steer the ship through waters which were often choppy. Common Room owe him and Gill much for this service. Many were the Guest Nights over which they presided with such style and numerous were the parties so generously thrown by the Wallis’s at their own home.
But one cannot appraise the impact of BW without stressing two things which stamped him out from the average brilliantly successful beak and which immediately spring to mind when his name is mentioned: his love of practical jokes and his mania for exotic ties! Space does not allow details of the many varied and highly ingenious “spoofs” he has perpetrated — suffice to say that nobody was safe from his irreverent sense of fun and his reputation was such that when anyone received an unusual missive, their first reaction was to suspect BW! As to ties? Well, his collection is rumoured to have exceeded 400.
Upon retirement, Brian indulged his woodworking passion, returning to education for a course in antique furniture restoration and honing his woodturning skills. He trawled auctions for restoration projects and produced exquisitely worked pieces for family, friends and to sell for charity. He was also an active member of the St.Peter’s Church committee, dedicated to preserving the deconsecrated church and using his practical skills to maintain its fabric. He delighted in the arrival of six grandchildren and spent much time providing suitable challenges and entertainment for them all. Always one to offer a helping hand to others, it was a blessing that he remained fit, active and fun-filled until the end.
Brian will be remembered in a memorial service to be held in Chapel on the 29th October 2023 at 12 noon to which all are welcome.