In memoriam John Sharwood Smith

I am very grateful to Bob Lister for sending this. I shall give the tributes a more permanent home on the website proper in due course.

ARLT members will, I know, be very sorry to hear that John Sharwood Smith died on 28 August at the age of 88. Not only was he a gifted and inspirational teacher (of learners of all ages), he was also a wonderful writer – 30 years after its publication On Teaching Classics remains essential reading for all trainee teachers – and was, of course, the driving force behind the creation of JACT. It is no exaggeration, I think, to say that without John's far-sighted understanding of classics and the contribution it could make to the school curriculum there would be little, if any, classics in any non-selective state school today.

A thanksgiving service was held last Saturday in Painswick, where John and his wife lived in his retirement, and the following were among the tributes included with the order of service:

I find it hard now to remember the days without JACT and all the initiatives, many of them inspired by John, that have kept Classics flourishing (and changing) in the past forty years. What he brought to those crucial discussions in the sixties was extraordinary creative energy and vision, which taught the rest of us a great deal about how to explore ideas, share our experience, and sometimes find ways of making things happen in the educational world. He will be remembered with enormous gratitude and admiration. (Pat Easterling)

John's position at the Institute put him at the heart of of the British educational system, linking schools and universities. He used this position with great skill in the diplomatic campaigns which led up to the foundation of JACT in 1962. The emergence of JACT was the product of a long and difficult process of negotiation. The founding of Didaskalos three years later developed and crowned the earlier achievement.
In 1985 Essays on Greek Religion and Society was published by Cambridge University Press. In his foreword, Moses Finley referred to John as 'the presiding genius over the renewal in our time of classical studies in this country'. It was no more than the truth. (Chris Stray)

My memory is perhaps appropriate to an occasion of remembrance; since it is of the talk John gave when he finally retired from JACT. It was of course a notable occasion, for the work he had done as the founding father of the Association, as its central moving spirit, and as editor of the elegant and remarkably influential journal, Didaskalos, was known to all. We were probably expecting a polished talk with recollections of the early days of JACT. What we had was something which no-one there will forget. John took us on a heartfelt personal Odyssey, explaining what Classics had been and had meant to him as he grew up – both his youth and the growing-up which had come from his war-time experiences and his subsequent career. And somehow the personal turned into the universal and into an account of where at that point in history we all seemed to stand. I can still hear the words with which he summed up his analysis of the past: 'Such is our habitat.' And he quietly then shared his unshakeable belief that the study of Classics still – in spite of the twentieth century – had a proper, useful and creative place in our world. David Raeburn who was in the chair on that occasion echoed all our feelings in saying that we had just listened to something remarkable and totally unexpected. Just for a moment John had lifted the curtain and let us have a glimpse of that quality and greatness of spirit which we all now miss so much. (John Muir)

Bob

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