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News > In Memoriam > Walter Armstrong MBE (1937-2023)

Walter Armstrong MBE (1937-2023)

Stalwart supporter of the Schools and former President of the Old Boys' Association Walter Armstrong passed away in March.
23 Jul 2023
In Memoriam
Walter Armstrong MBE
Walter Armstrong MBE

Walter Featherston Armstrong, one of nature’s gentlemen and one of Dame Allan’s surest supporters, was born in December 1937. 

Other than his three years at university studying law at University College, London, he lived in the same house in Bamburgh Grove, Jarrow, for the whole of his life.  He and his sister Dorothy both went to Dame Allan’s at a time when the boys and girls were kept very separate indeed. At school, Walter was a natural scholar and loved history and was Chairman of the History Society, studying both history and ancient history at A level. His sixth form history masters were Charlie Hay and Bill Fell and, with eloquence and precision, Walter could describe their respective teaching styles vividly despite six decades having elapsed. It is little wonder that he was known at school as the Memory Man. He believed that Hay’s exuberant and scholarly passion was complemented by Fell’s rigour and methodical coverage of the syllabus. Walter had that gift of seeing the good in any situation: others may have lamented that they did not get as much from one style of lessons, Walter believed that, together, they gave him the perfect foundation for studying history. Beyond the classroom, Walter was keen to engage in what would now be championed as the co-curricular life of the school: to Walter it was simply throwing himself into the school community. He was secretary of the Dramatic Society, appearing in the “The Fortunate Traveller” by Walcott and “The Frogs” by Aristophanes, where he played Charon the boatman carrying Dionysus to Hades. Although not a sportsman himself, he was, nonetheless, a loyal supporter of cricket at the school and travelled from Jarrow every Saturday to serve as scorer. His dedication was highly valued by his classmates, perhaps excepting the time that he accepted that the First XI’s lead batsman Charlton Lamb was out LBW when his scorer’s table had no clear line of sight.  

On leaving school he deferred National Service by studying law at University College London and then missed it altogether when compulsory National Service was abolished before he graduated with his LLB and sought a post as an articled clerk to train as a solicitor. He took up his post at Wilkinson and Marshall at No.1 Mosley Street Newcastle: The firm became Wilkinson, Marshall, Clayton and Gibson, and Walter became a partner there in 1967, retiring from Wilkinson Maughan (as it had by then become) in 1991. Early on in his chosen career he was diagnosed with encephalitis and was in the RVI for seven weeks. Despite the doctors believing that he may not survive, Walter showcased his renowned resilience and pulled through. It was this fighting spirit and determination to live life to the full that started a constant dedication to community service. He was an excellent solicitor and active in the Newcastle upon Tyne Law Society, but it was Walter’s array of commitments beyond professional life that brought him into contact with many across Tyneside. He relished helping others and to list his roles could be reductive, but it gives some indication of the breadth of his interests and compassion for his community to record that he served as Chairman of the South Tyneside Council on Disabilities, President of the South Shields Rotary Club, Trustee of St Clare’s Hospice, Hon. Secretary of the South Tyneside Talking Newspaper Association, Trustee of St Nicholas Educational Trust, and Chairman of the South Tyneside Community Health Council, as well as being a governor at Monkton Infant and Junior Schools.

Unstinting in his time and effort for the season he served each of these local causes, he had lifetime commitments with three local organisations. Walter was a regular churchgoer and was for many years Churchwarden at St John’s Church in Hebburn. When the church went into interregnum, he and the other churchwarden bent hammer and tongs to ensure that St John’s Church received a new vicar at the earliest opportunity. Walter was also keenly committed to providing opportunity and was active in the Jarrow Conservative Association for most of his adult life. A brief examination of the electoral record will demonstrate that the Jarrow constituency has not proved fertile ground for the Conservative cause. Nonetheless, Walter did not give up and was Chairman of the Jarrow Conservative Association 1991-1995 and later Political Deputy Chairman and Honorary President of the South Tyneside Conservative Federation until his death:. As recently as 2021 he was standing as a councillor in Primrose Ward, Jarrow where he lived, keen to serve the community about which he cared so deeply. His service was recognised in 1995 when he was awarded the MBE.

The third lifetime commitment was, of course, to his old school. Dame Allan’s ran through Walter like the words in a stick of rock. Upon returning to the northeast after university, Walter immediately became engaged with the Dame Allan’s Old Boys’ Association. He became Joint Secretary with Percy Stronach and so he remained, faithfully maintaining the strong link between the school and the Old Boys.  He held the presidency of the Association in 1982 and used his year of office to extend the Association’s support of school prizes to include a German prize: years later, serving on the Prizes Committee of the Schools, he took satisfaction in seeing the German Prize bearing the Association’s name. Walter was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Public Speaking Competition, which was initiated by Bill Johnson of the Old Boys’ Association and Belinda Whitehouse at the Schools, judging the competition until he took up the presidency of the Old Boys’ Association for a second term of office in 2003.

As the embodiment of the finest of the old traditions, it was fitting that Walter should serve as the final President of the Old Boys’ Association 2003-2004. Whilst enthusiastic about what had gone before, Walter loved the schools as they are, not in the rose-tinted aspic of a confected nostalgia. In consequence, he was very supportive of merging the Old Boys’ Association with the Old Girls’ Association and wrote the constitution of the Old Allanians’ Association which took over the mantle of the alumni organisation for the schools in 2004. Jointly with Julia Weatherall, he became the first president of the new association in its inaugural year which saw many of the tercentenary events at the school, including the visit of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, when Walter represented the former pupils with warmth and dignity. Walter was a regular visitor at the schools, and from 2001 attended the schools annually to lay wreaths for the Act of Remembrance on behalf of the Association alongside with John Scott, a good friend through their mutual support of the Old Boys’ Association. John recalls that upon arrival at the reception desk, Walter would explain that John, who had been a year ahead of him at Dame Allan's, was very much older than he was himself. Whilst declining mobility meant that Walter’s attendance at Allanian Society events, dinners and board meetings declined in recent years, he never retired from the Board and was, comfortably, the longest serving member at the time of his death. 

On the occasions that he did have spare time, his hobbies included reading (history, politics and sport), listening to the radio and walking. He was a keen follower of rugby, cricket, horse-racing and football, and was a committed supporter of Newcastle United. His interest in people and places also led to a lifelong fondness for visiting new places, often before they became famous for tourists. Well-travelled across the world, including South Africa, Pakistan and North America, he loved European travel, which included two cruises to St. Petersburg and five trips on the Orient Express. At home in the hills, he was very fond of Austria, Switzerland, and the Lake District, making frequent trips to the latter with his sister.

With Walter’s death in March 2023, Dame Allan’s Schools have lost a quiet champion and stalwart supporter. The Allanian Society has lost a loyal servant, the conscience of the Society and keeper of our collective memory: We who served alongside him have lost a gracious companion and a dear friend.

Stephen Davies, John Scott and Tim Lindsay.

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