30th October 2020

This week I attended my first online funeral, for a 99-year-old man who had taught physics and gardening at my rural comprehensive. Mr Hall’s reputation as a disciplinarian preceded him: he had previously taught my father, and was famous for many eccentricities, particularly his hawkish protectiveness of the school grass. Woe betide any child who strayed from path to lawn: Mr Hall would appear like an avenging angel to insist that you wrote a letter of apology to the blade of grass you had injured.

But when news of his passing was published on the school’s Facebook page, the response from former pupils was deeply moving. He had retired from teaching thirty-four years previously, but memories of him remained vivid, and literally generations of former pupils wrote of the love of gardening and nature that he had inspired in them. During the funeral service it became clear that science and his profound Christian faith went hand-in-hand, his scientific knowledge enhancing his wonder at God’s creation.

Several Facebook posts described Mr Hall as ‘a legend’; I’m sure he would not have recognised this description of himself. But as a teacher I draw great hope from this: we never know what seeds we have sown. And at a time when we can all feel rather powerless as individuals, it’s worth remembering that we can have greater influence for good than we realise: as the final sentence of George Eliot’s Middlemarch puts it: ‘that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully hidden lives and rest in unvisited tombs’.

Debbie Pinfold