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News > OS News > Stortfordian Community gathers to pay respects to inspirational former Head of History

Stortfordian Community gathers to pay respects to inspirational former Head of History

Moving eulogy to David Hopper on his sad passing at the age of 80 written by College Head of History, and friend to Mr Hopper for many years, Tom Stuart.
26 Sep 2022
Written by Jennifer Law
OS News

It was with the greatest respect and admiration that around forty Stortfordians, OS, College Staff and Former staff alike travelled to pay their last respects to cherished former Head of History and Master in charge of Cricket & Hockey, David Hopper at his funeral in Essex on Friday 23rd September. Many more joining the service online from across the country.

It was with great sadness that the Stortfordian Community learned of the death of Mr Hopper on 1st September at the age of 80. It is evident from the numerous tributes that were shared with David's Sister and the Foundation office that David left a hugely positive imprint on the lives of those whom he taught in the classroom, on the sports pitches and taught alongside during his 36 year tenure at the College. 

Colleague and friend of Mr Hopper, Tom Stuart, Head of History at the College shared fitting tribute to Mr Hopper during his funeral and it is with honour that we share his poignant words with those unable to attend themselves, either in person or online.

D.A. Hopper – Eulogy

DAH, or Mr Hopper – Bishop’s Stortford College, 1971-2007.

Many will recall the school’s tribute to David, upon his retirement after 36 years of service. In the Memorial Hall, pupils and staff alike rose to their feet for a genuinely spontaneous standing ovation. It was a unique moment. What does it tell us about his time at BSC?

This is not a question that we could have posed to the man himself, for he was always so endearingly modest. When I first met David, at interview, this quality was immediately apparent. He didn’t introduce himself as Head of History; instead, he launched straight into questions about teaching. How typical of him: understated and uninterested in titles.

David was selfless, too, in his generosity with his time. Looking through ‘The Stortfordian’ magazine, the frequency with which ‘DAH’ appears as a contributor, or ‘Mr Hopper’ is thanked by pupils, is remarkable. Local History, College cricket, Common Room Cricket, Hayward House, Brains Trust, overseas trips: the sheer amount of time that he devoted to these endeavours, not to mention their variety, remains startling.

More than that, David was highly gifted. Analytical and reflective, he honed his methods, demonstrating the high standards that he expected of his pupils. His lesson notes, carefully kept in manila paper files, were enhanced every year with small (but essential) refinements – each written in his tiny, immaculate hand. Pupils’ cricketing strengths and weaknesses were likewise recorded in a notebook that he produced ominously as he patrolled the boundary during matches.

Not that David reserved his judgements for pupils alone. Consider this, from his Master of Cricket report (1989): ‘My chief worry lies with the all-pervasive nature of GCSE and A-Level, which are increasingly (and ever earlier) taking over the Summer Term to cricket’s detriment. Surely education should be a balance between the academic, and the sporting and extra-curricular?’

In some ways, it’s hard to imagine David expounding an ‘educational philosophy’; he would have worried that it might sound pompous or pretentious. Yet, he clearly cultivated one: it was deeply felt, and practised with dedication and creativity.

In History lessons, he would tell his pupils: ‘History is about people’. This reflected his emphasis on the role of individuals in the past, and on storytelling. He was unusually adept at using analogies or present-day examples to highlight stimulating connections. He challenged pupils to think independently, eliciting responses both thoughtful and enthusiastic.

‘The Stortfordian’ again. In 1988, the Head of Hayward House said this of his Housemaster: ‘I thank Mr Hopper for everything – his guidance, unwavering loyalty and sense of humour.’ Loyalty: yes, David was indeed faithful to his pupils, and to his colleagues, who found him ever supportive.

And sense of humour: he possessed a splendidly dry sense of humour. This was typically deployed after he had first listened to everyone else’s contributions, before delivering a witty and incisive riposte. Admittedly, the humour was not always intentional – as when the College minibus failed to obey his increasingly urgent instructions, lurching alarmingly backwards not forwards (or vice versa).

David was overwhelmingly positive about school life. With one well-known exception: technology. As retirement neared, he readily escaped the transition from handwritten to typed reports; he simply asked the Staff Secretary to type up his pithy prose for him. The computer keyboard – or ‘typewriter’ as he once called it – was no friend of his.

David’s Local History activity reminds us of his idealism: in this case, to introduce pupils to the art of architectural appreciation. Little Easton, Thaxted, Finchingfield – just a few of the sites visited. In 1987, a pupil reported: ‘Mr Hopper was very generous as he splashed out on 10 Mars bars, one for everyone. This made sure that everyone was in a good mood on the trip back to school.’ A price well worth paying, no doubt, if it meant – as it did for so many – lifelong lessons in how to look at churches, houses, monuments.

David was famously kind; his straightforward, but compassionate style helps to explain the esteem in which he was held. But we must emphasise also his imagination and sense of adventure. Think of his celebrated cricket tour of Sri Lanka in 1985. Veterans of this tour fondly testify to its ambition, not to mention the unforgettable experiences that it afforded.

For David, of course, cricket was no trivial matter. He believed in the significance of sport; differences of all kinds became irrelevant as soon as he recognised a fellow enthusiast. On another tour – to the Caribbean – his impassioned defence of Geoffrey Boycott was enough to secure a free taxi ride, so eager was the driver to debate with our Englishman abroad. One can only hope that this welcoming local was equipped with the necessary statistics.

David, we may safely assume, would not object to us referring to the venerable Boycott, even in the context of this eulogy. In ‘The Stortfordian’ (1987), we find a delightful view from the boundary in a report on Common Room Cricket: ‘Bets were taken as to whether DAH would reach 10 in his first hour at the crease … a 3, guided through the slips, silenced the critics.’ Boycott indeed.

David’s self-description in the Sri Lanka tour programme is revealing: ‘Right-hand bat, very occasional leg-spinner. Interests: Italy, local history, meteorology.’ Four years later, in the Barbados tour programme of 1989, there was a subtle change to his list of interests: ‘Italy, local history, meteorology, Nottingham Forest.’

In retirement, gardening rose to the fore. To observe him in his beloved and beautiful garden was to watch him reinvent what he had done so expertly at school: the nurturing care, attention to detail, enjoyment of the process, quiet pride in the outcomes.

How, then, to define what made David such a cherished teacher and colleague? To some extent, this is impossible, for he had an enigmatic quality – partly due to his reserve, shyness even. Yet this quality also made him a notably charismatic and dignified figure.

Certainly, David is not reducible to a handful of anecdotes or adjectives, however complimentary. Yes, he was intelligent, generous, conscientious, good-humoured. For pupils, he was inspirational – a transformative influence. For colleagues, he was charming – a convivial conversationalist.

But perhaps we can best capture David using his own words. Here he is, writing about Sri Lanka, and the scene outside the airport: ‘people, thousands of them, milling everywhere, going to work; traffic, noisy, bustling – rusty old Morris Minors, horse driven carts, and no rules of the road – honking chaos.’ Quintessential David: precise, sensitive to sights and sounds, life-affirming.

Above all, he was a good man – a gentle soul, a gentleman. We remember him with boundless admiration and affection. David holds a place in people’s hearts that would have astonished him. His teaching and example live on – in the minds and memories of his pupils and colleagues; this, indeed, is his monument.  

T. E. Stuart, September 2022

Sending sincerest condolances to to Mr Hopper's amily and all those that were inspired by him, he will be so greatly missed but his legacy lives on in those who knew and respected him. 

Donations in David's memory can be made payable to:

'Chance to Shine'

(a charity that gives children the opportunity to play, learn and develop through cricket)

Donations can be sent to: 

Harvey Drake Funeral Services, Alexandra House, Swan Street, Sible Hedingham, Halsted, Essex, CO9 3HT (01787 461138)

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