Michael Edward Kingsley Kefford. RIP
Michael, the eldest of Ted and Evelyn Kefford’s three children, was born on 26th April 1937. The advent of the Second World War dictated that his early childhood was somewhat peripatetic, involving seven different residences for the family between 1939 and the summer of 1947. As a pupil at Edinburgh House (which he became in 1944), Michael excelled, both academically and on the sports field, particularly with the spherical rather than the oval shaped ball.
In 1950, he won a scholarship to Lancing College, where a combination of a love of classics, football, the chapel’s choral music and the College’s strong Christian ethos laid the foundations for much that he aspired to, and achieved, in his adult life. On leaving Lancing, he was called up for National Service, and chose the RAF, serving his two years in Crail and Berlin, where his burgeoning linguistic skills were both utilised and extended.
In Michaelmas 1958, he went up to St John’s College, Cambridge, where his father, uncles and grandfather had been before him. A switch from Classics, at the end of the first year, to Archaeology and Anthropology gave him the scientific and historical breadth that he sought. In the long vacs, that an Oxbridge education still affords, he put his ambition to teach to the test at a New Forest cramming establishment for boys struggling to fulfil their parents’ Common Entrance dreams. Also on the staff at this time, was Jeffrey Archer, who obviously liked the surname sufficiently to invent a character called Bob Kefford, who just happened to be an undergraduate at St John’s, Cambridge, for one of his later volumes of short stories.
On graduation in 1961, Michael was appointed to a teaching post at West Downs Preparatory School, Winchester. Here, he proved to be not only a well-respected teacher and sportsman, but captured the heart (eventually, we are told!) of the school secretary, Elizabeth Templeton. They married in August 1964. The headmaster of the time wrote that he was “sad she had to go, but delighted that she was marrying such a good man.”
In September 1964, Michael and Elizabeth, joined the staff of Edinburgh House, she as Ted’s secretary and he as a master. In 1967, and now with a young son, Rupert, they went to live in a little cottage in Oxfordshire for a year, while Michael did his DipEd at Balliol College, Oxford. Following this, Michael became a master at Royal Russell School, Croydon. During this time their daughter, Alison, was born. Croydon was followed, in 1974, by the headship of Colston’s Preparatory School, Bristol.
In 1983, Michael reached the pinnacle of his career by being appointed Headmaster of The Pilgrims’ School, Winchester – the Cathedral’s choir school. Of this period of his life, I can do no better than quote the current Headmaster, who wrote in the week following Michael’s death, “I look up to Michael in many ways: he had a strong faith and encouraged a love of choral music; he worked hard to develop the sport at Pilgrims’; he believed that the physical environment of the school should be as pleasant as possible and, in 1989, oversaw the opening of the Stancliffe Building; he was committed to the highest academic standards…… I would like to honour Michael’s memory, in part by doing everything I can to match the standards and priorities of his tenure.”
Michael and Elizabeth took a well-earned retirement in 1997, leaving Winchester for their little rural idyll in Somerset.
Aside from his obvious success in his professional life, what of Michael Kefford, the man?
At the centre of his being was his strong, life-long Christian faith, a faith which drove him to strive for the best, which inspired much of what he did and achieved, and which directed his pastoral care of his students and staff. He exercised a Christian liturgical ministry both in school chapels and as a Reader (Lay Preacher) in the Church of England – a ministry for which he was licensed in Wells Cathedral in front of his very proud mother, in 1973.
He was, too, a man for whom his family and family-life were profoundly important: a loyal and loving husband, an immensely proud father and grandfather, as well as much loved brother and uncle. His sister remembers growing up with a big brother who was, even then, a kind and patient teacher, a big brother who taught her so much, looked after her, played crazy and innovative games with her and invented characters for all the adventure stories he told her. Her best behaviour was always ensured, by him, with bribes of ‘knickerbocker glories’ in a New Milton café and peppermint lumps during long Sunday sermons. His younger brother, who shared the Cambridge experience with him, fondly remembers Michael at that time as a carefully polite young man, who always went along with the bizarre escapades and the usual undergraduate antics, but acted a bit like a senior monitor, never quite losing his Head of House personality! His taste in music was somewhat unusual, and he was well known for the flamboyancy of both his smoking habits – John Cotton Cigarillos - and his dart throwing, a style which, unsurprisingly, seldom resulted in anything like a winning score!
The grounds at Edinburgh House and the proximity of the New Forest while growing up, encouraged a lifelong love of the countryside, including shooting, fishing and butterflying with his father and brother. Cross-country running, always a hobby, became an essential part of his routine in retirement; villagers remember the once-athletic footfall, gradually diminish in strength and speed as illness took its toll, but with determination always remaining intact.
Michael took a keen in interest in most sports, but soccer remained his passion, with the successes and failures of Southampton FC in particular. Music, of quite a wide variety, was an integral part of his life, and his fine tenor voice was as comfortable accompanying pop songs as it was in church and chapel. An often obscure and Sahara-dry wit characterised a sense of humour that travelled happily in tandem with the gravitas required as a headmaster, and he was well-known for being a mine of diverse information.
Michael’s retirement was sadly dogged by much ill-health, but he and Elizabeth were able to enjoy village life, gardening, theatre trips and some foreign travel before Parkinson’s Disease took its wretched hold and gradually sapped all quality of life. His wonderful Elizabeth, who had worked unstintingly alongside him in all his professional roles and latterly was a constant source of care and support, was beside him when he died peacefully on 14th October 2015. He has been buried in the churchyard of his beloved Somerset village.