Robert Fieldhouse obituary

Other lives: Committed teacher of students with learning difficulties

My brother-in-law Robert Fieldhouse, who has died aged 68 after contracting Covid-19, was a teacher of students with learning difficulties. He was also a poet and an inspirational friend, who influenced many with his profound – and eclectic – love of music and literature.

Born in Leeds, he was the son of Stanley Fieldhouse, a civil engineer, and his wife, Doreen (nee Wright). His father’s career meant that for much of his childhood the family lived abroad, in places as varied as Yemen, Egypt and Germany. On return, they settled in Orpington, Kent, where Robert went to the Ramsden school for boys. In 1970 he trained as an English teacher at what is now Goldsmiths, University of London.

His first posts were at secondary schools in south London, where he quickly showed an instinctive rapport with special needs students. His great height and good looks gave him an imposing presence, but he was a gentle giant, combining a calm kindness with true sympathy.

In 1977 Robert married Angela Roddam, a head of communications in local government. When their daughter, Esme, was born, he happily put his career on hold to be a full-time father. Angela recalls the tenderness with which this huge man gently washed their child in a tiny baby bath. Robert resumed teaching in 1990, joining Oaklands College of further education in St Albans as a tutor of adults with learning difficulties.

Many students had been restored to the community after long periods in psychiatric hospitals. Robert and his colleagues saw their job as reversing the damage caused by institutionalisation. They allowed students the freedom to broaden their outlook through experience rather than narrow, exam-based education. Robert gave his time and attention unsparingly, and the students loved him for it.

Music was always at the heart of Robert’s life. From Bach to Boulez, Tim Hardin to Tongan folk songs, Van Morrison to Memphis Minnie, ragas to ragtime, his passion knew no bounds. And he communicated it (via a shower of mix-CDs) with unstoppable enthusiasm to friends and students. He was also an accomplished poet, fired increasingly by his anger at social injustice.

Robert’s marriage to Angela ended in divorce in 2009. His last years were darkened by the lengthening shadow of dementia, which he contracted at an early age, and which left him acutely vulnerable to the coronavirus while living at a care home in Baldock, north Hertfordshire.

He is survived by Esme and by his brother, Glynn, and sister, Jo.

Andrew Langley

The GuardianTramp

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