The announcement of John’s departure took colleagues by surprise and his last official function, the trustees and wardens meeting on December 4, will mark, almost to the day, the tenth anniversary of his election.
Seventy-year-old John was quick to praise the support he had had during his tenure and insisted he had thought long and hard before making his decision.
“I have been lucky to work with some fantastic people, not least Roger Norris who was chairman of the trustees for 20 years. The collective enthusiasm I have received during my time made a time-consuming job, that much more satisfying.”
“But I felt I had reached a point where my enthusiasm for continuing was not what it should be. In these circumstances the best interests of the organisation would not be best served if I stayed and felt the time was right to hand over the reins,” he said.
During the last decade the freemen have strengthened their centuries-old links with the cathedral, the mayor, and the mayor’s bodyguard. Operating on a stable financial footing and reinforced by the recently established charitable trust, the eight guilds have given tens of thousands of pounds to charities and projects within the city boundaries as well as extending community links. All have combined to raise the freemen’s profile.
But, perhaps, one of the major changes of John’s stewardship was the freemen’s unanimous backing for the admission of women in 2012 – a move that ended nearly 700 years of tradition. In recent years membership has risen from 80 to more than 230.
“We have a very illustrious past and the fact that we have adopted a more corporate approach to the management of the organisation has given us a very active present with a much higher profile. It all adds to our ability to plan for the future,” he added.
John, who has two children and two grandchildren, attended the Durham Johnston Grammar School and went on to train as a science teacher at Westminster College, Oxford.
In his first year in the profession he worked in Colchester before taking up an appointment in Wingate Secondary School – later to become Wellfield Comprehensive. After 21 years there he switched to Haughton Comprehensive in Darlington on his appointment as deputy head.
He was the school’s acting head in 1998 when he left to become regional officer for the National Association of Head Teachers, covering an area that embraced the north east, Cumbria and Scotland. He retired in 2008 and lives on the northern outskirts of Durham City.