John David Dixon
John “David” Dixon was born in 1937 and joined the School on 13 September 1949, aged 11 having previously attended Carlin How School. David’s family lived in Carlin How, his father having worked in the Skinningrove Steel Works during World War II.
Although David did not speak often about the war experience, he did relate his memories of his father’s bomb shelter and being put to bed there, hearing planes and bombs being dropped close to their home. One favourite family recollection was the time, just after the war when food was still rationed, when David, left in charge of preparing a meal for himself and his brother, used the entire ration of bacon for their lunch – much to his mother’s dismay and anger.
David also remembered the winter there was an unusually heavy snowfall and his father got the whole family up, out of bed in the middle of the night to go sledding on the homemade sleigh, which David described as ‘overbuilt, heavy – more like a locomotive than a family toy.’
David was a talented pianist and the July 1952 edition of the School Magazine, “The Guisborian” records that he gained a second class certificate in piano playing at the Eskdale Tournament of Song. David continued to entertain family and friends throughout his life. Indeed, on hearing David play for the first time, a brother-in-law commented “he certainly knows how to use all the keys.” Daddy playing piano was part of the children’s bedtime routine, his daughter once calling out: “I’m tired, play that one you always play last, it tells me it is time to go to sleep!”
David was also in the School’s Choral and Operatic Society and was in the “Chorus of Contadine” in the 1950 production of "The Gondoliers' and part of the 'Chorus of Fairies' in Iolanthe the following year. As an all-boys school, the boys had to take all the parts, even the female roles as reported in the local newspaper in 1951 where the headline read 'Absence of Boys is no Handicap'. However, the ‘trauma’ of playing female parts did not scar him for life, it led to a love of theatre and he was a patron of several stage and musical groups.
However, one school experience was even more dramatic for David. He had an aversion to tapioca and when it was served for school lunch, David refused to eat it. That was definitely against school rules and he was forced to eat it. When he arrived home, sick and unwell, and explained to his mother what had happened, this tiny woman who always accepted the authority of others, marched to the school to confront the staff. Her son was never forced to eat tapioca again!
In 1952, David’s father, older brother and sister moved to Canada and in 1953 David followed with his mother and younger brother. They settled in Toronto, Ontario where his father’s sister and husband lived. David was not thrilled by the ocean passage!
Moving to Canada in his mid teens, with little knowledge of the country and culture, led to a few interesting situations. His first English class in the fall of 1953 included an assignment, a composition entitled: My Summer Holiday. At the end of the class several students were chosen to read their essay aloud. Of course David, the new boy, was chosen and of course, David, the new boy, was terrified. He went to the front of the classroom, put his head down and read. There was not a sound from the class. When he finally raised his head he was astonished to see his classmates with looks of confusion. The teacher rose, came to the front of the class and said: “I never understood a word you said. I’ll give you an A.” David claimed it was the first and last A he ever received in English! David kept traces of that accent throughout his life, once, in the 1990s, he was spotted as a ‘Geordie’ by a fellow plane passenger (David’s family originally hailing from Newcastle before moving “south” to Carlin How for work in the 1930s ).
David went on to attend North Toronto Collegiate Institute and then the University of Toronto. He did not settle easily into University life and left to work in industry for several years, before returning to the University where he gained a BSc in 1969 and pursued a teaching career at the secondary level, mathematics & science, grades 9 – 13.
David met his wife, Margot, at the wedding of his younger brother to a one of her friends. Decisions were made quickly: they had their first date in January 1967, became engaged three weeks later and were married in September. They had 2 children, a son and daughter.
David was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1999 and prostate cancer in 2007. In January 2009 he suffered a horrific fall from a ladder, while changing an outdoor light bulb. He broke every bone in his face plus a few other injuries but had a miraculous recovery and by the end of the summer he was back out working in the garden. That work caused him to notice a growing pain in his side and in December he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died in the Cornwall Hospice, May 22, 2010. David did not want a formal funeral and instead, a very informal wake was concluded with friends from the local little theatre group leading family and guests in a selection of songs celebrating his life.
Produced with the kind permission of Mrs Margot Dixon