DONNELLY, Bob

by Tony Thacker

Bob’s untimely death in September 2012 was a shock to all who knew him. His connections with Moseley School were special.

Bob’s teaching career had begun in 1965 at Handsworth Grammar School for Boys.  In 1971 he became Head of History at Abbey High in Redditch before moving to Perry Common as Head of Upper School.

I first met Bob in 1982 when he came to Moseley as Deputy Head. From the start of his time at Moseley he struck me as a thoroughly decent man and we got on well. The photograph below was taken in the early 80s and shows a British Government and Politics A Level class in session. Roy Hattersley in the centre; Bob to his left (which was, given his political leanings, a first and last I suspect) and I am standing against the wall, folder under arm. I love this picture of Bob.  He was in his element, his love of teaching and passion for politics there for all to see.

Bob Donnelly taken by Roy Peters (2a)

Bob Donnelly (sitting back left) with Roy Hattersley. Picture courtesy of Roy Peters

I can’t recall in detail all the things that Bob did and achieved when he was at Moseley. What does stay with me is how good it felt to work with him and the happy times we had in that period of the School’s development. What kind of training Bob went through to become a leader I do not know but I do know the qualities that made him such a good one: courage, integrity, genuineness, passion, attention to detail and humour. I never saw him fazed by anything. He led by example, rather than diktat and inspired many of us.

We always enjoyed conversation and managed a fair bit of it at break in the West Wing staffroom, overlooking the playing fields, coffee in hand.

I am sure that he ruffled a few feathers.  He reminded me recently how he had upset some Heads of Department by insisting that they taught the full ability range rather than creaming off the brightest students for themselves. Difficult to argue with that (though they tried!).

Bob applied for and got the job of Head at Duddeston Manor in 1987. Much as we were sad to see him go we were happy that he got the post he deserved. On his last day at Moseley we put on a “review” for him. The sketch was called “The Odd Couple” in which the couple in question, David Swinfen (the Head at the time) and Bob were played by myself and Pete Samuels respectively. It was irreverent as usual, but not without affection. Pete managed to “secure” Bob’s trademark blue blazer for the performance. Bob’s wife Anne had smuggled it into school in the morning leaving Bob perplexed as he searched for it. Needless to say when the curtains opened and he saw it on Pete he was amused. On many future occasions Bob was to chuckle at the sketch even quoting lines from it years later.

After retiring from full time teaching Bob went on to teach A Level History, part-time, at Cadbury College. He also began to work in Nechells supporting the development of the “community of schools”, their links with each other and with families. He was particularly proud of being associated with the development of the Bloomsbury nursery.

At the same time he worked as a volunteer director with CommuniSave, a not for profit financial co-operative promoting community saving and borrowing. Many people who were previously unable to borrow money without paying huge interest rates to loan sharks benefitted from this group’s work. It was typical that Bob’s politics would extend to the grass roots. This was the very antithesis of champagne socialism.

I saw Bob irregularly once he had left Moseley. We always sent Christmas cards, there were meetings in Wales and Hay-on-Wye (books being one of Bob’s greatest passions), and occasional phone calls. But however long the gaps, it always felt seamless when we spoke again and caught up.

It was Keith Scott who first told me that Bob was ill. Like everyone I was very concerned. I rang him and we had two wonderful conversations before we agreed to meet up.  A meeting I will never forget. Bob had suggested that we went out to a country pub in Clent. I picked him up at his house and though I noted that he had lost some weight, within seconds of him speaking I saw him as the Bob that I knew. I told him to prepare for a ride in a classic car, my Golf Gti (Mark 2), 238,000 miles on the clock. He was amused that I still had it and I was amused because I knew I would not be able to drive at speeds even 1 mph in excess of 30 or 40:  for Bob, breaking the speed limit was a capital offence.

During the journey and then in the pub we talked about the books we were reading and those that had made an impact on us, people we knew and how they were doing, his illness, his work with the Credit Union, music, Moseley then and now.  As always, conversation flowed, moving seamlessly between the light and the serious and back again. On his illness he was matter of fact. He said it was a “nuisance”. He said that he had started to feel sorry for himself once, until he saw children in the same hospital with their heads shaved.

When we left the pub he asked if I had been to the Waseley Hills Country Park. I hadn’t, so he suggested we went. Having parked there, Bob pointed towards a pylon on the horizon and said we should walk towards it. It was at the top of a steep hill, it wasn’t warm and it was windy.  We had to stop several times but he would not take my fleece or return to the car. He was adamant that we went on.

At the pylon Bob had to rest but he directed me on another fifty metres or so to the top. When I got there and looked up the view was simply stunning: from what felt like the top of a large grass amphitheatre I looked across many miles to see the Welsh Black Mountains and Sugar Loaf in silhouette against the dark sky. Bob had wanted me to see this view.

I won’t share all of the details of the conversation that took place in the car on the way back. Suffice to say that Bob knew that he had little time left. But he said that he felt lucky. Lucky because of his life and his family and because he had had time to do the things he needed to do over the last few months. Though he would have been entitled to it, there was not a hint of self pity.  Arriving back at his home, he insisted that I came in for a cup of tea. He was tired but we both knew that we had enjoyed a special time together. When I left I did not think that it would be the last. He was simply too alive. Too involved. Too connected.

There was so much to Bob. There are others better qualified than me to tell of him and his life. I am just one of many whose path crossed Bob’s and who became a friend. I am proud to have known him and know that others will feel the same. His funeral was terribly sad but also uplifting. Moseley School past and present was well represented with many more unable to attend.

Apart from his beloved family, Bob leaves a group of friends, colleagues and acquaintances far larger than he could ever have known, whose lives have been enriched by their acquaintance with him.  I am the better for knowing Bob and will have cause to smile when I think of him