Noël Estcourt obituary

Other lives: Educationist who left behind a potential sporting career to teach in Africa

My father-in-law, Noël Estcourt, who has died aged 89, was an inspirational educationist, an international rugby union full-back and a first-class cricketer.

In the 1950s he left his native Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to study for a master’s in English at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. He was awarded a blue in cricket and joined Blackheath rugby club. Via Kent, London Counties and the Barbarians, he established himself as a leading full-back, trialling for England in 1954. In March 1955 he gained his first cap, only the second Rhodesian to do so, playing in the Calcutta Cup against Scotland – a match that England won 9-6.

Noël was born in Selukwe, Southern Rhodesia, second son of Basil Estcourt, the general manager of Ohlsson’s brewery in Bulawayo, and his wife, Margaret (nee Parkinson). Raised in Bulawayo, Noël attended Plumtree school, near the border with Botswana, and excelled at cricket, rugby, shooting and drama. At Rhodes University, in Grahamstown, South Africa, he took a BA in English and geography, played rugby for Eastern Province and became captain of cricket. A gifted actor, he was chairman of the university’s dramatic society and supplemented his term-time allowance by crooning in local clubs.

After gaining his master’s at Cambridge, Noël left England and a potential sporting career behind to teach in Gweru, Rhodesia. His next post was Goromonzi high school where he became head of English and ultimately acting principal of the school. Goromonzi produced many students who went on to serve as government ministers after independence.

Through promotion, Noël became principal of Domboshawa Training Centre, an adult education establishment emphasising the improvement of rural life, training 3,000 men and women a year and sponsored by the ministries of education, health, agriculture, local government and internal affairs. Noël initiated the “chiefs’ course” for tribal leaders, focusing on local governance and the importance of education.

Subsequently Noël was appointed to the ministry of education’s head office as deputy regional director of African secondary education for Mashonaland. During this time he was called up to serve with the police anti-terrorist unit until the ceasefire in December 1979. Noël believed that black rule was long overdue, but that the war could have been avoided, with a more measured handover focused on governance and administration. With post-independence reorganisation and his Devon-born wife’s desire to return home, he retired early and settled in the UK in 1981, becoming an assiduous archivist of family history.

Noël was adored by his family. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer (nee Pickwoad), whom he married in 1954, and his daughters Frances, Catherine and Hilary. Another daughter, Bryony, predeceased him.

Steve Jermy

The GuardianTramp

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