Wilfred Eric Wightman

27th July 1927 – 6th March 2013

Eric Wightman attended Leeds Grammar School where he became Deputy Head Boy and Captain of Squash and, after national service in the Royal Artillery, went up to Oxford to read History at Magdalen College. Following a PGCE at Oxford and teaching practice at Malvern College, he taught history at Aldenham School from 1952-1957 from where he moved to King Edward VII School, Sheffield as Head of History. In 1962 he joined the Civil Service where he remained until his retirement in 1987. During the 1960s and 70s he tutored evening courses at Sheffield University, Cassio College in Watford, and Morley College in London. After his retirement he chaired Civil Service recruitment selection boards, worked as Deputy Director of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and became a trustee of Watford Boys’ Grammar School.

He married Ann Hartley in 1956 and was heartbroken when she died in 1995. In 2003 he married Anne Williams, formerly Anne Wiley, who survives him.

Eric remained faithful throughout his life, to his interests in history, music and railways, to the church and his faith, and to his family. Underneath a sometimes severe exterior and an occasionally sharp temper lay a subversive sense of humour which surfaced through practical jokes, irreverent stories and (often unseemly) jokes.

History was a lifelong interest and after reading history at Oxford, he taught history to generations of students at Aldenham School and King Edward VII School, where with his black hair and flowing black gown, he was known as “Black Jack”. He never lost his interest in history and undertook a PhD at Leeds University. His thesis was published in 1966 as “The Lacy Family in England and Normandy, 1066 – 1194”, and he followed this with a number of well researched articles in scholarly journals including one on Open Field Agriculture. His children can still never pass a field showing evidence of medieval agriculture systems without thinking “ridge and furrow!”. His enthusiasm was such that two of his children studied history at university, and his children and grandchildren remain familiar with the nuances of English medieval castle building.

Influenced by his father Wilfred Alan Wightman who was organist at St Chad’s Church Far Headingley for nearly 50 years, he developed a passion for music and learned to play the organ under Melville Cook at Leeds Parish Church. He was appointed organist and choirmaster to Holy Trinity Northwood in the late 1960s and worked hard to build a choir capable of bringing a high standard of music into services. Although he enjoyed baroque orchestral music, he loved 19th century English choral music, particularly the anthems and organ music of S.S. Wesley, and choral settings by C.V. Stanford. He approached choral music with an energy and enthusiasm that made up for the necessarily limited choral resources available to him, and once had to seamlessly and continuously repeat the introduction to the Stanford in G Magnificat until his treble soloist plucked up the courage to start! He continued to play the organ well into his 70s, latterly at St Michael and All Angels’ Church in Watford.

Railways of all kinds, and travel, were a lifelong interest and for many years family holidays revolved around preserved narrow gauge steam railways in Wales. He derived tremendous pleasure from rail travel with his children and grandchildren, whether propelled by steam, diesel, electric, hydraulic or even gravitational power. The Talyllyn Railway in Wales was a lifelong railway interest and when he was no longer able to read himself he enjoyed listening to the Talyllyn News being read to him.

Eric’s faith was another pillar of his life, which was entwined with his love of church music. Never an openly demonstrative man he held fast to his private faith in God throughout his life. It was no accident that his talent for music found its main outlet in church.

Eric Wightman, schoolmaster, civil servant and historian, was born on 27th July 1927 in Whitkirk, Yorkshire, and died on 6th March 2013 in Watford, Hertfordshire. He is survived by his second wife Anne, his four children and his 11 grandchildren.

Richard Wightman, Aug 2013