A wonderful obituary to John Whitmarsh Knight who I still feel floating in all our midst…On His teaching assignment at BCS Simla he described this..”as the happiest and most fulfilling period of his life …”Although it has been18 months since John wandered in to his special garden, his presence on our website will give great strength to each and every Cottonian.Thanks very much.My Warmest…Vivek
22/08/1941 – 09/11/2018
John Whitmarsh‐Knight was born in Karachi into a military family before partition and moved to England when he was aged 7. The family home was at Grove Park and John came to Dulwich from a local primary school. At Dulwich he excelled at sport. He was in the 1st XV for three years (58 – 60), being Captain in his last year, and in the 1st V11‐a‐side rugby team from 1957. He was a 1st X1 cricketer for two years (59 – 60) and in the hockey 1st X1 for three seasons. John was editor of the Alleynian and a member of many societies. He became a prefect in 1959 and Captain of the School the following year. During his last year, when in the Geography Upper Sixth, he took the scholarship exams at Cambridge and on the back of these was offered a place at Fitzwilliam College.
John was an all‐rounder in every sense of the word. At this early stage he already showed a deep love for literature; he was greatly admired and respected not only for his academic and sporting prowess, but also for his exceptionally warm, caring and thoughtful personality. He was known for his generosity, his kindness and willingness to help others, and also for his exuberant sense of humour and fun. With these endearing qualities, coupled with his natural modesty and prodigious memory, he made many friends both at school and throughout the rest of his life.
On leaving Dulwich he decided against going to university and instead worked in the City. However, he soon became disenchanted with finance and in 1964 left for Africa where he worked in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and then the Seychelles, being involved in international companies and latterly a government department. During this time he experienced a dozen coups d’etat, his recipe for survival being to fill the bath with water, buy quantities of food to last three months, board up windows and wait for events to calm down.
After 10 years John returned to the UK and took up a senior position in a Company owned by an OA friend, Paul Fessler. He successfully developed amongst other products a range of organic cosmetics to rival Body Shop. Each year during this period John became involved with the All England Lawn Tennis Club as a volunteer at the famous Wimbledon championships. He gained a reputation for introducing a much improved method for crowd entry, and the other senior stewards were also aware that when John was on duty his engaging personality ensured the crowd would be in good humour.
John though became academically restless and studied for an English degree at Birkbeck University. This he put to good effect and in 2009 he returned to his native India to become a very successful teacher at the Bishop Cotton School in Shimla; this is a boarding school in the Himalayan foothills and is a replica of an English public school. John described this as the happiest and most fulfilling period of his life. Regrettably, ill health due to chronic lung disease forced him to leave prematurely in 2012. He is remembered there as “a gentleman and scholar who worked tirelessly and was an absolute pillar of the Bishop Cotton School”.
A series of three documentary films entitled “Indian Hill Railways” was made for British television in 2010 and the third of these featured the Kalka – Shimla railway, which was built by the British and opened in 1903. The film director obviously recognised John’s charisma and showed him on a number of occasions, both traveling back to the school post holiday and also at the school itself. In the film John explained that previously he had worked in business which was a “take‐take situation, now [at the school] it is a give‐give situation, very refreshing.” This was a typical reaction from John.
Back in England John’s lung condition continued to deteriorate and he became less able to leave his home in Addlestone, Surrey. He spent much of his time delving into his many treasured books. John was predeceased by David, his younger OA brother and is greatly missed by his family and friends.
This obituary was written by three OA friends of John, Paul Fessler, Roger Lewis and Peter Lyon