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John Carter (1926-2003)

JOHN CARTER (1926 - 2003)

John Drake Carter, who died on 13 May 2003, was a potent influence on the development of Peterhouse over three decades - so it is important that we remember him today.
John was born in 1926 in England, and went to one of the country's most famous public schools, Marlborough. He went on to Sandhurst Military Academy where he won the sword of honour - that means he was the top cadet in his group, and his award was presented to him, in 1945, by the then Princess Elizabeth, Now Queen Elizabeth II. After army service in the Middle East he decided - fortunately for us - to pursue a business career in Africa.

He worked in South African Breweries, and having spent some years in what was then Rhodesia, he and his family settled here in 1966. He ran the Breweries, was businessman of the year in 1976, and was deeply involved in various charitable and promotional activities. For 32 years he was a director of what is now Delta Corporation, and in the 1980s was Chairman of Barclays Bank in Zimbabwe.

Soon after settling here he sent his sons to Peterhouse, and thus became involved with this school. Fred Snell, our Founding Rector, was still in office when the first son arrived. He used to call John "Mr Dumpy" - because he ran the breweries which at that stage produced beer in small bottles called 'dumpies'!
But there was nothing dumpy about John Carter. He was a big man physically, with a large mind, a generous heart, and a lively imagination. It was those qualities which Peterhouse came to value, and to benefit from, very soon after he joined the Executive Committee in 1971.

It may be hard to believe now, but in 1976 Peterhouse was as large as it had ever been - a school of almost 400 boys. But these were years when war and emigration were taking their toll on independent schools, and within a year, Peterhouse was down to under 300 boys, and a year later to under 200.

1977 was a make or break year for the school. There were fears that it might have to close. That it did not is largely due to the work of two members of the Executive Committee - John Carter, and his friend Syd Hayes. They worked hard to ensure that a rescue package was created, and even as school numbers continued to drop, were confident that Peterhouse would continue. It was typical of John Carter that in the midst of this crisis, he "asked that a plan be prepared for future development". And eventually those plans led to the building of the Fieldsend Hall and Snell House.

When Zimbabwe became an independent nation, John Carter was determined that the school should play its part in the development of education in this country. And so in the 80s he was enthusiastic about our creation of Springvale House, and Peterhouse Girls. He it was who drove through the plans for the building of the Sir Humphrey Gibbs Centre, which transformed the appearance of the school. He it was who, when the political and economic outlook were bleak in the late 90s, insisted that the school should proceed with building a new 'state of the art' science block. So it is appropriate that two years ago it was opened by him, and named after him.

Some of you boys, and many of the staff, will remember John as the large, dignified figure who graced our speech days for many years, a man who spoke out firmly and confidently. What few of you will know is his enormous contribution to the school over three decades, and it is good that you should hear about it this morning. Nor will you know that the man who masterminded the Gibbs Centre and the Science Block was also a man who with his own hands created exquisite dolls houses; who was a keen fisherman, and an avid traveller throughout the world.

His name will live on here in the school. He finally retired as Chairman of the Governors two years ago. He and his wife Angela moved to Pietermartizburg last year, but remained closely in touch with what was happening here. We think today of the Carter family, and particularly Angela, whose own family had always been deeply involved with Michaelhouse, from whence our founding Rector came. We send them our gratitude and sympathy. We would want them to know that the name of John Carter will be honoured here for as long as Peterhouse stands, rooted in rock of the Christian faith. And in that faith we commend to God the soul of his servant, John Drake Carter.

Alan Megahey
20 May 2003

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