Obituary: Norman Eccles was a climber who lived at the school he led

Norman Eccles
Norman Eccles

School headmaster Norman Eccles MBE was a man who seldom strayed far from work – because he lived there.

He was the last in a line of six heads at Lurgan College to actually inhabit the school grounds, living in a detached house on the site itself.

Mr Eccles’ successors have abandoned the practice, and today it stands derelict – but the man who was last to occupy it is far from forgotten.

Born on March 3, 1926 and originally from the Wirral in Cheshire, the veteran teaching figure – with an RAF background and an appetite for mountain-climbing – died last month.

Trevor Robinson, the current principal of Mr Eccles’ erstwhile college, said he was a man who maintained an interest in the school despite retiring in 1988, and despite his advancing years.

Before joining Lurgan College, where he was in post for 10 years, he taught physics at Campbell College, where he also became careers master.

Before that he had taught at Methody, following his degree course in physics from Queen’s University Belfast.

He also made an impression on Lurgan College’s results, as well as on those he met.

O-level and A-level results improved during his time as principal, and he said at the time he was standing down that he could “bow out happy in the knowledge that our academic results in the last year were the best on record”.

Paying tribute to him, Mr Robinson described him as “a faithful attendee at school events such as Speech Day (an annual prize-giving event for successful students)”, adding that he “regularly kept in touch with me about how his old school was progressing”.

He added: “I have no doubt that many former pupils and staff will have very fond memories of this true gentleman who served the school so ably as headmaster.”

In addition to the realm of education, he had a rich raft of extracurricular interests, including a passion for flying.

An account of his background, taken from the college’s own recorded history, notes that he was a pilot instructor to the Queen’s University Belfast air corps, that he played rugby for Collegians, and that he coached the sport at a regional level too.

He was also a keen mountaineer – a pursuit which took him far and wide.

Mr Robinson said the ranges he had tackled included the Himalayas, and a book called Ala Dag also records his presence at an expedition in 1966 to the Taurus mountain region of south-eastern Turkey, near to the Syrian border.

He also served for many years with the RAF, having enlisted in October 1943 as a non-commissioned pilot.

He later gained commission and his career saw him posted to areas ranging from Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to south-east Asia.

He left the RAF in November 1963, and was given an MBE in recognition of his contribution to the military in 1971.

He was a member of a Co Down yachting club up until his death, which Mr Robinson said was preceded by a period of failing health.

He died in the Ulster Hospital on April 11.

He was 88, and living in Helen’s Bay on the north Down coast at the time.

His funeral was on Wednesday, April 16 at Roselawn Crematorium, east Belfast, taken by Rev Colin Megaw of Helen’s Bay Presbyterian Church.

The service was attended by hundreds of mourners.

He is survived by his widow Dorothy, daughter Kathryn, son David as well as his grandchildren.