Obituaries

John McCutcheon

1939 - 2012

John was born in Scotland on 3rd March 1939 to a Welsh father, William, and an English mother, Greta. He was given the middle name Ninian, after the patronal saint of Perth Cathedral where his father was the Precentor at the time. John, the eldest of three boys, moved to Ripon at 6 months old and spent his formative years in Yorkshire and always considered himself a Yorkshireman.

John attended the village school in Kirkby Fleetham and later went to prep school in Saltburn before entering Northallerton Grammar School. John reckoned he was a bit of a geek and should have been bullied but wasn’t because he was quite sociable. As a vicar’s son in a small village it was drummed into him that you acknowledged everyone and spoke to all - a trait that he carried with him to the end of his life.

In his final years at school, John and his fellow sixth formers resolved as a group to buy a different newspaper every week to get a varied view on the world. One day John bought the Daily Worker and soon afterwards was summoned to appear before the Head and Chairman of the Governors following a report from the shopkeeper. John explained what he and the others were about but he was nonetheless accused of being a Communist. John noted that next week the Yorkshire Post was the paper on the list and asked if that then branded him as a Conservative, a comment that did not go down well with the Governor who was also Chairman of the local Conservative Club. Needless to say, John was never made a prefect.

John survived his school days, studied physics at King’s College University in Newcastle upon Tyne and became a gifted and popular teacher. After teaching for five years in Mansfield he became Head of Physics at Hitchin Girls’ School in 1966 and stayed for 37 years becoming Head of Science and then Deputy Head for 19 years before retiring. Teaching was John’s first and great love. He took the trouble to make difficult concepts easy for his pupils to understand and worked hard so that they would be successful. John had a terrific sense of humour which he used to advantage in the classroom but he could also be mischievous with it. On one occasion when he had been invited to a reception at Buckingham Palace, a senior civil servant asked him how his school was coping with the new national curriculum. "Well," said John with his usual dead pan delivery, "we have just installed a new central heating system that runs on shredded paper, so with all these new instructions we have a ready supply of fuel, thank you very much".

John’s ringing career started in his early twenties in Sutton in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, where he attended an evening class to learn to ring. A year later in Hitchin he joined the band of St Mary’s where his contribution to ringing was considerable. He was an ever present and totally reliable member of the band for service ringing, practices and weddings. His wisdom, wry humour, friendship and pure goodliness were a constant source of strength to all who knew him. John ably filled the roles of Tower Captain, Trustee and Vice Captain. He always made sure there were enough ringers for service and weddings, calling upon his wide circle of ringing friends when the local band was short. John used his organizational skills to run extremely successful, and highly profitable, tower open days to coincide with the Christmas and Summer Fayres at St Mary’s Church. He was also an excellent quiz master and helped to raise hundreds of pounds over the years for the County Bell Fund at the annual Holy Week quiz which he introduced, and which is now a permanent fixture on the North Hertfordshire District calendar.

John was very supportive of the scheme that is currently underway to improve and augment Hitchin bells and it is particularly sad that he did not live to see the project completed. It is unusual to dedicate a bell to someone while they are still alive, and John was characteristically modest when it was suggested that the new sharp second carry his name; he knew he was unlikely to hear it ring. The new bell, cast in October, is inscribed "To the Glory of God and in gratitude for the contribution made to ringing at this tower by John N McCutcheon, the gift of St Mary’s Bellringers". The bell will be part of a light training eight and it is appropriate that it is dedicated to a gifted teacher who did so much for ringing in Hitchin as a band member, long-serving local committee member and President of The Hertford County Association of Change-Ringers, 1987-1988.

Ringing gave John a good release from work and provided much solace in the last months of his life. In his view there were few hobbies that encompassed the age spectrum like ringing did. Over the years he taught his wife, Christine, and his two children, Andrew and Susan, to ring. John revelled in the fact that in one group he could socialize with his family, his contemporaries, his pupils and a generation that had fought in the First World War. Many years ago he persuaded pupils from Hitchin Girls’ School (and those with links to the school) to ring before the Annual Founders’ Day Service at St Mary’s Church; a tradition that still carries on. Like the man, John’s ringing achievements were modest; he would always encourage others to achieve their goals although it is much to his credit that he achieved his own goal to ring Glasgow Surprise Major on Hitchin bells a few weeks before he died. John rang 42 peals over a period of forty years. He rang his last peal in December 2011 (Minor – 7 methods) and his last quarter peal in January 2012 (Barium Surprise Major). In retirement John was a popular and regular member of local mid-week ringing groups, bringing his own brand of wit to the day.

John was a very practical man and a marvellous fixer of all sorts of things but with a particular passion for electronics which started when he was 12. As a boy he would repair the radios of the elderly parishioners and took great joy in extracting the accumulators and valves from the old radios passed to him. Later in life, whenever he was out and about with the family he would hatch a cunning plan to visit a radio shop and make it look accidental. Once retired from teaching, John joined the local Amateur Radio Society and soon became club secretary. Using his talent to enthuse he revived the club’s fortunes and ensured that it had a thriving and engaged membership. John was always generous with his practical skills and, unasked, would do "fixing" jobs - trying to make things just that little bit better for everyone else. He was still giving help and practical advice about the sound system in St Mary’s Church in the last week of his life.

In retirement John, ever busy, was also an active member of the local Probus club and was at one time its Chairman; he and Christine enjoyed the club’s monthly walks and outings and made many new friends along the way.

John married Christine, a zoology graduate, in 1965 and through a long and very happy marriage they travelled widely, particularly enjoying holidays in France, and shared many interests apart from science and bell ringing. At one time they both taught at Hitchin Girls’ School. John was an inspirational and nurturing parent to Andrew and Susan and a devoted grandfather; his sense of fun and energy was never more apparent than when he was in charge of his grandchildren.

John was a very special man who will be much missed. His untimely death on 13th December has left us all diminished by the loss. That St Mary’s Church was packed for his funeral was an indication of the high regard in which John was held by his friends from all of his walks of life. May he rest in peace.

The McCUTCHEON FAMILY
with help from Trevor Groom and Jane Boyd

BB BellBoard
CC
Central Council of Church Bell Ringers