Heath Old Boys Association


Obituaries


Norman (Larry) Joseph Gain: [Heath 1935–1941; 1947–1952]

‘Larry’ Gain, as he was universally and affectionately known to nearly two decades of Heathens, died on , aged 91. He was the last of a generation of Heath Masters whose memory still lives in the minds of those who were taught by them.

Norman Gain was born on in Camberwell in London. He was educated at Champion Hlll School in London and went up to Oxford in 1927 where he was an Exhibitioner at Oriel College. After graduating in ‘Greats,’ he was appointed to a classics post at Ripon Grammar School, moving to Heath in 1935.

He was at Heath for seventeen years, including five years in the RAF during the war. As he was of a similar age to Arthur Owen, the Senior Classics Master at Heath, he left in 1952 in order to further his career by taking a senior post at Liverpool Collegiate School where he continued to teach Latin and Greek. He retired in 1972, just prior to his 65th birthday, and in 1982 he moved to Fulwood Park, a Methodist Home for the Aged in Liverpool where he lived contentedly until his death.

Sadly Norman Gain had no surviving blood relatives but we extend our condolences to those who knew him and to his friends and to fellow residents and staff at Fulwood Park.

First appeared in the Newsletter dated .

Ernest Clarry [Heath 1930–1938] writes:

I remember him arriving in 1935 when I was just beginning in the Sixth. In that year we had just lost all the classics staff: O.R.A. Byrde (retiring Headmaster), L. Corney (leaving for a bigger school in London) and W. Peach (leaving for Northampton Grammar School). They were replaced by the new Headmaster, D.J.D. Smith, Arthur Owen as Senior Classics Master and Norman Gain, his junior. He soon acquired the name ‘Larry’ because, at the time, there was much written on the sports pages and talk on the wireless about a boxer named Larry Gains.

Our Larry had a light-hearted, bonhomous manner which we all found attractive and felt was good for the school and I think the response which his personality evoked from the pupils encouraged him to stay on so long at Heath. In fact, I think the Headmaster of the day, Mr Swale, had to advise him, in his own best interest, to apply for a senior post elsewhere (since Arthur Owen was unlikely to leave) if he was to make fullest use of his talents and qualifications.

Bernard Wilkinson [Heath 1934–1940] writes:

Before he even taught you, you knew he was a ‘good egg’ with his heart in the right place by his vociferous support of rugger teams at Kensington. He was a delightful character with a great sense of humour which showed itself not only in the interchange in the classroom but also by his practice in the last lessons of term of reading P.G. Wodehouse short stories. I must be one of many who thereby gained a lifelong enthusiasm for the humourist. But he was a marvellous teacher who, by his obvious enthusiasm for his subject, not obviously the most thrilling, managed to instil in our barbarous heads some love of Latin authors such as Virgil and Horace.

I lost contact with him for a time but resumed it again thanks to Donald Nicholl, another pupil of his. Norman, who like David was a devout Christian and had joined the Roman Catholic Church, had written to Donald an appreciation of one of Donald’s books. He, Norman, was then in a Methodist Old People’s Home in Liverpool. Donald suggested that we visit him which we did. He was very deaf but otherwise his old self. Thereafter we corresponded at Christmas and on special occasion. He plied me with his own poems, some humorous, some serious, his recordings of readings of P.G.W. and, when I rashly mentioned I was trying to learn Greek, Greek limericks written by A.F. Owen which mercifully he translated!

Michael Pollit [Heath 1938–1950] writes:

‘Larry’ Gain was one of the most cultured, dedicated and human teachers I have ever met. Although I went to Heath in 1938, I didn’t really get to know him until he returned to school after the war along with other members of staff who had been ‘seconded’ to H.M. Forces to win the war for us.

‘Larry’ was a teacher with a proper authority. Today there often appears to be a conflict between a teacher seeking to exercise authority by sanctions and a lack of authority altogether. ‘Larry’ Gain exemplified another way: an authority fearfully demanding on the teacher but which alone is proper to those who, like ‘Larry,’ understand their teaching as a vocation, that is, the conviction that they have been called by God. So he did not tyrannise his pupils, he did not proselytise, he did not indoctrinate, but with consummate skill and measured humour he led us on a voyage of intellectual discovery, encouraging us to develop the imaginative side of our thinking without excluding the analytical or logical, helping us to look at life with heart and not just with head.

Most important, ‘Larry’ believed that truth is given, not invented; so he lived by the things in which he believed. He was a ‘Buchmanite,’ that is, a follower of the religious movement known as the Oxford Group, founded and directed by Frank Buchman (who also inaugurated the Moral Rearmament movement), which spread rapidly in England in the decade leading to the Second Great War. He drew his daily inspiration from opening the Bible at random first thing in the morning and taking to heart whatever the direction he believed was contained on those pages. We might not approve of this mode of devotional or theological study but it certainly appeared to work for ‘Larry’ and maybe even Dr Favour with his very own collect would have approved: Go before us, Lord, in all our doings with Thy most gracious favour ...

And his lessons were fun, eagerly anticipated, punctuated with anecdotes of the Bertie Wooster-Jeeves variety. I never heard him swear even when the occasion or the perverseness of a particularly provocative pupil might have deserved it. But, if or when something went awry, a sanitised expletive, ‘Bindles!’ would bellow forth. Bindles, boy ... absolute bindles!

He made the comprehension of Classics quite riveting. His dramatic reading of extracts from, for example, Virgil or Euripides were unforgettable. He even gave a prize for a competition for learning by heart κακως πεπρακται· πανταχη τις ἄντερει ... from the Medea.

‘Larry’ entered into all the school’s extra-curricula activities with gusto. He was the main baritone in the choir. Oh, who could ever forget his brilliant rendering of ‘Oh, ruddier than the cherry, Oh, sweeter than the berry’ from Acis and Galatea at one school concert? He played squash with the redoubtable C.O. Mackley. He was an ardent support of the First XV. Pursue the ball, Heath! bellowed forth from the touchline or Well done, Sir! on the rare occasions when someone managed to tackle a member of the opposing team in a convincing manner.

We were singularly fortunate at Heath in the quality of the staff in those post-war days. They were men of profound humanity, dedication and wisdom and, almost without affection, we felt a deep affection for them. More than that, their influence on our lives and our vocations was formative and enduring. they gave us as much if not more by their example, the values they held, their encouragement, their personal integrity and their discernment of a pupil’s potential as they did through their classroom teaching. We owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude. If the inscription on what were once the ‘new’ school gates, Digni este et vos favore, applied to anyone, it certainly did to ‘Larry’ Gain. He indeed is worthy of approbation.

John Allingham [Heath 1945–?] writes:

I remember his tremendous enthusiasm for all things Roma. His very features would have made him automatic choice as Caesar by any Hollywood director. When telling us about Caesar’s Gallic wars, he always used to refer to the Romans as ‘we’ and the British as the enemy. In one lesson involving a verse about Venus running through a forest, his face took on a look of pure ecstasy and his rich voice rang out with something like, ‘What a vision she must have looked with her flowing robes and her hair streaming out behind her.’ He certainly brought the subject to life.

David Sharpe [Heath 1943–1950] writes:

Norman had a sense of fun about his subject that helped the medicine go down. I can still recite the hexameter he gave which gives you the names of the first sixteen emperors in order: Julius, Augustus, Tibi, Cal, Claud, Nero, Gal, Otho ...’ It is sad that I can still remember this doggerel while I am now unable to read the poetry of Virgil who used the hexameter for the Aenead.

Norman was a bachelor schoolmaster like C.O. Mackley, a kind of ‘Mr Chips,’ a type now presumably almost extinct. For them teaching was not just a job. The life of the school and its pupils played a central role in their own lives and extra-curricular activities were part of that. He accompanied an outing of the classical sixth to a production of a comedy by Plautus, promoted by the Classics Department of Manchester University, to help us realise that what we read was once part of a living culture.

I can see him in my mind’s eye now, immaculately dressed in plus fours at the School Sports Day, a type of dress now I suppose only found among the crustier members of the M.C.C., if there are any still surviving. I suppose the final words of Middlemarch are appropriate for Norman:

The effect of his being on those around him was incalculably diffusive; for the growing good of the world in partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

May he rest in peace.

Peter Owen [Heath 1956–1964] has spoken to the widow of Eric Taylor, Maud, and she recalls that Norman had ‘a lovely singing voice’ and that he was a member of the Halifax Choral Society along with Eric and Peter’s friend, Arthur. He certainly appeared in school theatrical productions. Peter, who with his wife visited Norman in Liverpool in the early 1990s, found him almost completely deaf and had to pass written messages to him. He had developed considerable talent as a cartoonist. He also refers to Norman’s support for MRA, Moral Rearmament, developed from the Oxford Movement in 1938 and comments on his conversion to the Roman Catholic Church in the 1980s even though he was then living in a Methodist Retirement Home — an apparent paradox which pays tribute to the strength of his faith. He was, says Peter, a kind and worthy man and, when I think of him, the phrase ‘the world will be worse for his passing’ seems entirely appropriate.