Howard, Canon Ronald
Born at Sevenoaks, 15th February 1902, Died in Hove, 15th June 1995.
Canon Howard was the second son of Henry and Florence Howard. He had a private education before gaining a degree in English at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and training for the ministry at Westcott House, Cambridge. He was ordained deacon in 1926 and priest in 1927 at Chichester and served as a curate in Eastbourne until 1928.
When he was a curate, Ronald Howard fully expected to spend his working life in the Church, but an uncle, who at the time was headmaster of Liverpool College, suggested his name, as a possible Chaplain, to two other Headmasters. Ronnie was surprised to receive a notice of a vacant chaplaincy at a prep school in the north of England (“I did not reply to that”) and also Bradfield College.
He accepted the Bradfield job and this resulted in him being a schoolmaster for the rest of his working life. He went on to teach at Tonbridge School from 1930 to 1937. In 1937 he applied for the post of Headmaster of Hurstpierpoint College and was very nearly appointed, but Walter Dingwall, at that time a Housemaster at St. Edward’s, Oxford, and a late entry was appointed.
Ronald Howard moved to Marlborough College and a year later became the Chaplain. The Marlburian for March 1943 speaks of him as an humane, generous and friendly Chaplain who ‘knows just how boys’ minds work’. For the last two years of the Second War he was Chaplain at Radley College.
In 1945 when Walter Dingwall announced that he was retiring, as he was suffering from the strain of running the school during the war years, the Governors had no hesitation in appointing Ronald Howard as Headmaster. Contrary to popular belief at the time, the two Headmasters has a great respect for one another. This was established by the charming letter Walter Dingwall wrote to Ronald Howard on handing over the College in 1945. During his eight years as Headmaster, Walter Dingwall had raised the academic and sporting standards and the numbers of the school to a high standard, but the end of the Second World War was a very difficult time for Hurst and for all similar institutions.
Ronald Howard was the ideal choice to succeed Dingwall. He had many difficulties in his first term, but soon the younger masters were demobilized from the Services and returned to teach at Hurst. This boost to the teaching staff, together with the appointment Stanley (now Sir) Simmons – a very strong character – as Captain of the School, provided a very good support to the new Headmaster in a difficult time. He himself showed a great strength and determination and soon won the respect of his staff and the boys. His calm approach and his capacity for intelligent hard work soon built on his predecessor’s achievements. He raised the numbers in the senior school from 216 to 340 and in the Junior School from 44 to 122. He took a great interest in the school finances and the detail of all the building projects. He was continually encouraging the bursar to improve accommodation – particularly the living conditions of the staff and boys.
He took a great deal of trouble over the selection of new members of staff and developed a supportive and well qualified common room. He built up a very good relationship with all the local prep schools. He increased the number of boarding houses from five to seven and a total of £225,000 was spent on buildings (see details below).
He created a fine, academic and happy school, which attracted such numbers that he was constantly able to raise the quality of entry to both senior and junior schools. He took a great deal of trouble in interviewing possible parents and showing them round the school He alone decided which boys had qualified to enter his school.
Ronald Howard was a well-built man and a very imposing figure in his cap and gown – his normal dress. As a Headmaster he was greatly respected by the boys, masters and parents. He built a pedestal for himself and gave the impression that from his great height he could supervise and control everything that was happening in the school. On important school functions he maintained this position even when entertaining national figures or royalty. He expected high standards in turnout, discipline and behavior both in and out of school.
Ronnie Howard was a bachelor and a modest, shy man. His shyness prevented him from forming any close friendships with his colleagues, to such an extent that there was no-one to tell him what a great Headmaster he was. His pleasant, dry sense of humor was hidden from all but a few. His one luxury was a collection of early nineteenth century watercolors. For nineteen years his life was the school, whether it was teaching sixth form divinity, preaching and taking Chapel services, chairing masters’ and prefects’ meetings or watching school matches. At one period he took on the time consuming task of looking after his great friend Canon Tompkinson in his final years.
Ronnie, when he retired in 1964, perhaps remembering his treatment by Walter Dingwall, was very helpful to Roger Griffiths, who was appointed to succeed him Roger and his wife, Diana, became great lifelong friends to Ronnie and they kept him in touch with the College.
Ronnie was made an honorary canon of Chichester Cathedral in 1957 and when he retired he was appointed communar (a kind of bursar) of the Cathedra! and he went to live in Chichester. One of his tasks was to chair the committee on selection of possible ordinands. He loved his involvement in Cathedral life.
In 1967 his sister died and Ronnie – a very loving son – gave up his work at the Cathedral and moved back to Sevenoaks to look after his mother. On her death, he bought a flat in Hove. Ronnie had not enjoyed good health during his working years and many people were very surprised that he lived till he was 93. He maintained his great interest m the College and even in his last year he would recall the names of OJs and ex-masters. Old Boys who perhaps only knew him as a strict, austere, even formidable Headmaster, would have been very surprised to listen-in to his conversations with his visitors. He was prepared to discuss any topic and usually had a humorous experience to relate with much laughter.
In 1989 he moved into retirement accommodation. His failing eyesight prevented him from doing much reading and he depended upon the TV and radio for information. The media gave him a very poor picture of the world and particularly the youth today. He often brooded over his time at Hurst and when lonely and depressed thought of himself as a failure. He would say ‘I was not a popular Headmaster – I was not liked”. In the end he was really convinced that this was NOT true. Many people will feel the loss of a real friend. SCHOOL BUILDINGS BUILT BETWEEN 1945 and 1964
1946 Two Staff Houses – Coombes and Woodard
1948 Junior School Classrooms.
Staff House – 1 Ruckford Cottage.
First Science Block.
1951 Music Practice Room.
Indoor .22 Range.
1954 Two Staff Houses – East and West Lowe.
1955 Junior House Extension.
1956 Eagle House.
1958 Staff House – 2 Ruckford Cottage.
1959 Schools, Classroom Block.
Two Squash Courts.
Indoor Cricket School.
Staff Flats – Ruckford House 1 & 2.
1960 Martlet House.
Domestic Staff Block.
Junior Housemaster’s House.
Junior House Classrooms.
1962 Study Block.
1963 Staff House – Ruckford 3.