Peter Rippon 1937 – 2007

This is how my local paper, Coventry Telegraph, has reported the death of the first tutor I had when I joined the Open University as a mature undergraduate. 

Teacher who turned author dies, aged 70

Apr 13 2007

By Cara Simpson

AN AUTHOR and retired Coventry schoolmaster has died, aged 70 – sadly, before completing his fourth novel. Peter Rippon* taught English literature and was head of general studies at King Henry VIII** school, Warwick Road, for 33 years.

He wrote three novels when he retired and was working on a fourth book, The House of Sache, loosely based on the great-great-grandfather of his wife Angela.

Mr Rippon died in Myton Hospice, Warwick, on April 2, after a nine-year battle against prostate cancer.

King Henry VIII’s head of English Sheila Woolf paid tribute to Mr Rippon – who lived in Milverton,
Leamington – and said he had been an extremely popular teacher. 
 

“He made an enormous contribution to the school and was an extremely clever man. He was one of those people who was interested in everything, made students interested in things they never thought they would be interested in, and was held in immense affection by all those he taught, especially the sixth-formers.”

The first draft of his unfinished work tells the tale of a man who started life as a tinsmith from Berlin and married into French aristocracy.

His widow, Angela, aged 64, said: “He was always writing in the study in the morning and afternoon and always had ideas for stories. He was a loyal husband and very supportive.

“Even though he was academic, he was open-minded and didn’t look down on people.

“He was very resilient, determined and had a lack of self-pity. He didn’t let the illness get him down.”

The music lover’s first novel, The River Crossing, was published in 1998 and told the fictional tale of a
Leamington woman who went on an adventure and disappeared without a trace in 1882 until her diary materialised in the 1990s.

When it was published, Mr Rippon, who was fluent in five languages, told the Coventry Telegraph he had always wanted to write and penned his first story when he was 24 years old.

He later went on to publish two further novels, Shadow in Sunlight and Italian Caprice.Mr Rippon was born in Birmingham, read modern languages and English at Queens’ College,Cambridge, and travelled throughout Europe, spending two years teaching at a Swedish university, where he met his wife, and a year in France.In the 1980s he studied for an M.Phil in French ideas and T S Eliot at Warwick University and became a part-time tutor for the Open University.

Mr Rippon also leaves three children, Guy, aged 31, Polly, 33, and Edward, 29.

Daughter Polly, who lives in Sheffield, said: “He was a loving dad and will be missed by a lot of people. He was good-humoured and always had a good story to tell. He loved food and drink and was good fun until the end.”

A service and cremation will be held at 2.15pm next Thursday, at Oakley Wood Crematorium, Bishop’s Tachbrook, near Leamington.Donations can be made to Myton Hamlet Hospice care of John Taylor Funeral Care, 1-3 Russell Terrace, Leamington, CV31 1EZ.

My own recollections are that Peter, whom I knew for little over a year in the early eighties, was a kind, generous and patient fellow, with a wry, if somewhat pedagogic sense of humour.

Most of the stories he told me were stories that did not necessarily reflect well on him. Once when I was struggling to finish a piece of work, he told me this little tale to make me feel better. The thesis he wrote on T.S. Eliot was supervised by eminent Eliot scholar Bernard Bergonzi, who had, he told me than a few of the eccentricities the prejudiced mind associates with an academic.

After proudly reporting to Bergonzi , as he had to do regularly, that after a week hard slog had had produced 5 or 6 hundred more words towards his thesis, he would ask Bergonzi, by way of making some small-talk, how he was getting along with a piece he was doing on another aspect of Eliot’s poetic output.  ‘Oh, I knocked out about 20 thousand words’ would come the reply’ ‘But I had to scrap 10 thousand – not very good you know’.  After that’ Peter would say, somewhat ruefully ‘I just felt felt that I’d done no worked at all’.

I suspect that the story was apocryphal and Peter’s way of telling me not to feel that bad when my progress was slow – it was that way for everyone at some time or other.

A good teacher and a nice man whom I now wish I’d got to know better.

_________________________________ 

*Peter three novels were The River Crossing (Minerva, 1998), Shadow in Sunlight (Blackie & Co Publishers Ltd, 2002) and Italian Caprice (Pen Press Publishers Ltd, 2005)

**King Henry VIII School is part of the of Coventry School Foundation. Past pupils include the neurobiologist Colin Blakemore , the theatre director and writer Bob Carlton and the poet Philip Larkin.

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