My friend Geoff Roberts, who has died aged 92, made his living as a teacher but had a large hinterland beyond his work in the classroom, including as a part-time illustrator and writer.
Much of Geoff’s creative output came after his early retirement from teaching in the early 1980s – a long and fruitful period in which he became a writer of short stories and poems, some of which were published in Reach Poetry magazine.
When I was working as a freelance editor for Camra, the Campaign for Real Ale, in 1998, tasked with producing Room at the Inn, a guide to pubs offering bed and breakfast, and with no budget for a photographer, all I had to work with was poor quality photos sent in by the pubs themselves. Almost in despair I called upon Geoff, who worked his magic by providing wonderful line drawings, based on some of the photos, that really made the book.
Just a few months before his death, Geoff’s talent as a novelist was recognised with the publication in 2021 of his Arthurian romance novel Swordsman of the Sun.
Born in Ilford, Essex, to Hilda (nee Gilpin), a housewife, and Douglas, a partner in a London paper firm, Geoff, who was an only child, went to Watford grammar school and after national service studied English at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he met Helen Eames, who was studying at nearby Homerton College and whom he married in 1954. They both became English teachers, and Geoff taught at Sandbach school in Cheshire, Northampton grammar school and Cedars upper school in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire (where he was head of English), before becoming a teacher trainer at Weymouth College in Dorset.
After Geoff took early retirement, he and Helen moved to the village of Saint-Orens-Pouy-Petit in south-west France, where I and my husband, Stephen, had a holiday home. They were freezing in their poorly insulated house, but their “lives were saved”, as Geoff often recalled, by the villagers, who kept them supplied with stumps from old vines to burn in their stove. Thus they established friendships with local families, in particular the Plantés, that endured until the end of his life.
Geoff delighted friends and families each Christmas with cards featuring his drawings of a local château or other landmark, and I will always treasure the final one from Christmas 2020 that depicted my own house.
He was a keen tennis player, and appeared regularly on court well into his 80s. He was also a huge rugby fan, and friends learned not to drop in when a big match was on television. Watching sport helped sustain him through increasingly regular spells in hospital in his final years.
He is survived by Helen, their son, Steve, and two grandchildren Sophie and Aidan. Another son, Andy, died following a hit and run accident in London in 2005; a circumstance to which Geoff was never truly reconciled.