George Coates 1913-2002
George Coates, who died on 12th February 2002, was Headmaster of Stoke Ferry School for twenty years until his retirement in 1973. Since then he has continued to live in the village - a total of nearly 50 years as a resident of Stoke Ferry. In his first few years, Stoke Ferry was an all-age school, becoming a primary school in 1957, when Methwold was opened.
George was born in Crewe, Cheshire in 1913. His father was a railway police officer, and was frequently transferred to different towns and cities. By the time he was 18, George had lived in Crewe (twice), Birmingham, Holyhead, Dublin and Leeds - an unusual amount of moving in those days. One of his early memories was of hearing the sirens sound at the end of the First World War in 1918. As a protestant family in Dublin in the late 1920's, he faced a degree of hostility from some people in the recently created Irish Free State, and after a couple of years, his family returned to the remote, but peaceful, town of Holyhead in north Wales.
His first job was as a messenger for a Dublin solicitors' firm. When he returned to Wales, however, there were few jobs available and he started to work on the railways, at first in a clerical capacity. Later, from about 1935 until the end of the war, he worked as a signalman (or train controller) in the midlands town of Long Eaton. As this was a reserved occupation he was not allowed to join up during the war and worked shifts, often for six days a week, in the signal box. This experience gave him a clear view of how the railways should be run "British Rail was not very good, but since privatisation it's a disgrace" which he was prepared to expound to anyone who was prepared to listen.
After the stresses of wartime shift working, he decided, with encouragement from his wife, Doris, to change professions. In 1946 he enrolled on the government's emergency teacher training programme at Peterborough, where he and his fellow students completed a two-year course in 13 months. In this way, he joined the teaching profession relatively late (he was 34 by then). After five years at a Secondary School in Derbyshire, he looked around for a village headship somewhere with a school house available, and in early 1953 was offered the job at Stoke Ferry. He recalled driving for the interview from Derbyshire to Norfolk in a 1932 Standard (top speed about 35mph) across the still submerged fens after the worst floods in a century. Perhaps fortunately, there were no nightly television pictures to discourage him and his family from moving to Stoke Ferry.
Despite his town upbringing, George loved the countryside and living in a village. For many years, he was Secretary of the Parish Council and a member of the Parochial Church Council. He was a very enthusiastic gardener, proud to be a Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society. He was interested in birds and wildlife, and was an outstanding artist and photographer of them.
In his younger, and not so young, days he was a walker and cyclist, enjoying travelling the country staying at Youth Hostels or camping. He learnt to sail and canoe and we built our own boats from kits. He loved music, sang for many years in the Downham Choral Society and as a young man played the violin. But the activity which gave him the greatest sense of achievement was Scouting. In Stoke Ferry he founded and ran the Scouts and the Cubs for many years and every year he organised camps either locally or at Scout Jamborees held at Sandringham. For more than a decade he was an Assistant District Commissioner.
George met his wife-to-be Doris Dawson when they were both "in digs" in the same boarding house in Long Eaton. They married in September 1938 while the Munich Crisis was raging. When Doris died in 1998, they were a few weeks short of their 60th wedding anniversary. I was their only son, born in 1945. George has three granddaughters, Anna who is following the family tradition and training to be a teacher; Becky, who is at Cardiff University; and Vicki who is still at school. They will always think of him with love and affection.
"Mr Coates", as many still addressed him, was obviously very well known in Stoke Ferry - generations of "school-kids" will remember him as a teacher, or as Scout leader. Others will remember him walking his dog - the most recent a greyhound - until a few days before he died. He was a quiet, modest, man of many talents; he always saw the best in people and things (apart from the railways!); he was, as somebody wrote to me after his death, "a real gentleman". I am sure he will be remembered and missed by many people.