Richard John Dennis 1936-2010

John DennisRichard John Dennis, ‘Dick’ to his friends, arrived at Ayton in September 1944 as an 8 year old; he stayed for 8 years.  By the time he reached 16, in 1952, he could not wait to leave school. Part of the Dennis Dynasty, Dick was the son of Old Scholar Richard Henry Dennis 1918-23, and was immediately called Dick at school as his father had been before him. Headmaster Herbert Dennis was Dick’s great uncle, two of Herbert’s granddaughters Gay and Jo Lewis, second cousins to Dick, were briefly Ayton scholars during his time there, and Dick’s sister Mary joined him at Ayton in 1948.

Much has been written of the task the late Arthur Grainge and I undertook in about 1984 to locate and bring back to Ayton for a reunion as many of our contemporaries as we could find.  It was Arthur who ‘found’ Dick.  In 1988 Dick returned to Ayton for his first reunion, which was also the Association’s 100th Celebration, and he was hooked.  He presented to Evelyn Nicholson the ‘Blue Booklet’ he and I had produced, containing CVs of about 30 of our contemporaries, an idea of Dorothy Dawson’s.  Dick bore almost all of the print costs himself.

For the School’s 150th birthday in 1991, Dick returned, accompanied this time by his wife Freda, together with their dog Harry. They camped on the Lake bed in a very smart camper van, a smaller version of the Winnebagos which were to become the focus of our year group reunions at Whinstones post the school’s closure.  The Dennis’s hospitality then, and Dick’s later, was legendary.

In 1992, Dick became a member of the AOSA Committee, joining Mary Banks as ‘Old Scholar left for more than 7 years’, and his experience in committee work soon became apparent.  When Hugh Colwell retired as Records Secretary in 1996, Dick took over.  Unlike Hugh, who was seriously unhappy working with computers, something he freely admitted, Dick was a computer wizard and greatly enjoyed the challenge his new role presented.  In addition to the normal work undertaken by Record Secretaries, Dick had two extra files, one for deceased OS labelled ‘File 99’, while the other was for ‘Lost Members’. These allowed him  instant checks and cross references when queries regarding membership came up. Dick had also been responsible for putting together, collating and having printed, three or four of the most recent Handbooks. He remained on the Committee for 18 years.

In approximately 1998/99, Dick mooted the idea of creating a website for the Association under his own Domain name of Manannan, an old Norse God who protected the Isle of Man by cloud cover from invasion by the Romans.  This idea was put to the AGM at Bainbridge in the Yorkshire Dales. Since its humble beginnings back then, our website has grown to become the amazing vehicle for OS information it is today. The costs of running it were entirely covered by Dick himself.

Our Association President from 2002/03, Dick’s address to the AGM broke from tradition by detailing some of the history of the early Quakers and the founding of our school.  To his complete surprise and delight his five Lewis cousins came to Ayton for the reunion to help him celebrate, as did his close friend from school days, Neil Burrows.

With Dick’s arrival on the committee, the process of presenting the Annual Report to our printers was revolutionised.  Dick was a printer by training and also by birth, being associated with the firm of Dennises of Scarborough, probably best known for their picture postcards.  In the early days he was able to translate the mag from its typed pages into what was then known as ‘camera ready copy’, ie, once ready it merely needed to be photographed instead of being typeset.  Later, and with the improvement in computers and digital imagery, the whole process was put by Dick onto a PDF file, which made life for our printers even easier. It also saved the Association approximately £250 a year.

When the Committee was told in 1997 that the school was to close in the August of that year, it was Dick who worked with our Chairman Wendy Smith to compose a letter to be sent out to all of our members, explaining why the closure was necessary.  Dick ensured that every member received a personally addressed letter, all done at home on his computer, to help ameliorate the effects of such devastating news, a gesture appreciated by us all.

Dick was always regarded at school as an excellent swimmer, an enthusiasm he carried with him to adult life.  He was also an excellent sailor, and but for jaundice striking him just before the event, would have competed for the UK in the Finn Class during the Tokyo Olympics. Like Harry Snalam, Dick also had a private pilot’s licence. He was a member of the Manx Model Flying Club, which involved making and flying huge model aircraft.  In order to drive the Winnebago which he used as an Ayton base during reunions, Dick acquired an HGV Driving licence.  He said it made him look at driving and road awareness in a completely new light.

In recent years, Dick was dogged by poor health.  Last June he had major surgery for removal of cancer of the oesophagus, something from which he never really recovered. His wife Freda and their son Edward were with Dick when he died at 6.00am on 12th February 2010 in St Bridget’s Hospice on the Isle of Man, the Hospice he helped to found.  To them and to Edward’s wife Dawn, their children Sam and Dannie and to Dick’s sister Mary, we send our most sincere sympathies. Dick was a veritable colossus and his shoes will not be easy to fill. He is going to be very much missed