David Brown obituary

Other lives: Spanish teacher at Westminster school who later directed the Sainsbury family’s charitable trust

¡Hombre! said with a gentle, mischievous smile, was how my friend David Brown, who has died aged 81, would greet me on Sunday mornings at Christ Church, East Sheen, in west London. David was an outstanding teacher of Spanish at Westminster school (his pupils included Nick Clegg and Matt Frei), then an innovative headmaster at St John’s school, Leatherhead, in Surrey, and finally an imaginative dispenser of the Sainsbury family’s largesse.

David was born in London, the son of Winifred (nee Lischeid) and Frank Brown. His father was a fitter and turner by trade, and became the engineering shop manager at Harvey’s, an engineering company in Charlton. David was one of a family of five living in a company house in a working-class estate. When he won a scholarship to Dulwich college, he turned it down because he thought the mandatory boater would not go down well on the estate.

Instead David went to the Roan school, Greenwich, then Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, where he read French and Spanish, followed by a PGCE. At Cambridge he met Tess (Vanessa) Condon, whom he married in 1966.

David gained his teaching spurs at Brentwood, a direct grant grammar school in Essex, then moved on to Westminster. He arrived there at the same time as his colleague and friend Christopher Martin, who says: “David had already learnt how to cut it with youngsters who could smell a weak teacher at 100 paces. He knew how to love the sinner while disapproving of the sin, and given his skills as a gifted Hispanist, he made an immediate impression at Westminster.”

He became a housemaster in charge of Liddell’s, a boarding house – managing behaviour that could include boys climbing onto the Abbey roof or wandering up to Soho. One summed him up like this: “Dave always had time for us kids. He always had the witty one-liner, to take the heat out of the situation.”

From 1985 to 1992 he was head of St John’s, Leatherhead – modernising by bringing girls into the sixth form, recruiting female teachers and setting up a boarding house for girls

Then came another career – helping the Sainsbury family in their charitable spending. He became director of the Linbury Trust and channelled funds into tasks that had always interested him – helping wayward or disadvantaged youngsters and particularly young offenders. Trailblazers, for example, founded in 1998 for teenagers at HM Young Offenders Institutions at Feltham and Aylesbury, is still going strong.

Tess taught geography at St Paul’s girls’ school for many years. She, and their three children, Katie, Jonny and Rosie, and four grandchildren, Charlotte, Daniel, Alexander and Kayden, survive David.

He died of cancer, parrying the disease for almost a decade with humour and dignity. Instead of complaining, he bought a big red Jaguar and went on singing in choirs, serving as a parish warden and enjoying his family. ¡Que hombre!

Bernard Adams

The GuardianTramp

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