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In Memorium

We are very sad to report the loss of two former members of staff, Conn O'Halpin and Deidre Grist.

One of our most loved and respected former colleagues, Deirdre Grist, sadly passed away on 17th March 2020.

Deirdre joined the FCH SEN department in 2001 and subsequently sadly had to leave teaching to combat her illness in 2017. During this time, she always projected the utmost energy and positive thinking-even when she must have been feeling unwell. She was an exceptionally strong person who never ever gave up on living her life to the fullest.

Deirdre was a fantastic SEN teacher. She was always prepared, always explained her lessons and expectations clearly. She had a unique technique of putting her students at ease through her calmness, patience and humour. What made her an even greater teacher was that she truly cared about her students. She gave them her time, patience and passion for teaching. Deirdre listened to them and let them know she cared about them. Her aim was always to maximize the potential of the students she taught and seeing them do well gave her the greatest satisfaction. She had a love of all things methodical and organised and her students always knew what they had achieved and where they were going next.

As a colleague, Deirdre was immensely loved and valued: she had a wonderful sense of humour and amazing generosity of spirit. Her unstinting support to all colleagues within the Department is immeasurable. She never failed to give of her time and her support to everyone who needed it, and for that she is remembered with much love and affection.

In her personal life, Deirdre enjoyed many things. She loved travelling, Barnet Football Club, the various animals the family owned, being a frequent visitor to the gym when she was well, taking walks, and health and fitness. She was wholly enthusiastic about life and loved doing so many things and was always active. She was also a voracious reader. But above all, she loved her family: her husband and their two daughters.

Deirdre has been blessed with a   loving family. She is survived by her devoted husband Andrew who was always there for her; their two beautiful daughters Fiona and Alice who were her pride and joy and their respective partners Luke and Drew.

Deirdre was a loving mother, a loyal, caring and generous friend whom we will all miss very much. May she rest in peace.

Patricia Gray & Bernadette Pittendreigh

I'm very sad to hear of the passing of Finchley Catholic High School teaching legend, Conn O'Halpin, although at the ripe old age of 90, his was a classic good innings, and one played with the greatest panache and dedication.

Quite simply, Conn changed my life. When I was a truculent teenager, he was the teacher I respected too much to tell 'no' if he suggested I take on some extra-curricular project, and it was one of those - submitting an entry for a history essay prize at Cambridge - that won me my place there.

His lessons were a masterclass, starting with five minutes letting everyone settle while he drew from memory a free-hand map of the area of Europe that he'd be teaching about that day. The proud Donegal man would always pay special attention to his Irish coastal inlets.

For a man brought up in the tough Irish schools system, and who learned his teaching trade under the priests who ran Finchley Grammar, he was no stickler for tradition. He believed in using literature and art to bring history alive, and encouraged creative writing in our coursework.

I never heard him raise his voice to control a class, and the one time I was engaged in some tomfoolery in his lesson, he calmly ordered that I be pushed out of the window from which I was dangling head first on the grounds that would be the quickest way to end the disruption.

He left the school in 1993 after 35 years, but continued to be a fixture of FCHS events until very recently, and always came across as warm and sharp-witted as ever.

I'd like to think that, behind the Pearly Gates today, Conn is on the whiteboard drawing a map of the Middle East while St Peter and the boys settle down. Conn would be honest with them: 'Right lads, let's start on the last 2,000 years - this could take a while.'

For those of us still here instead, who only have the memories of being taught by Mr O'H, it was an experience to be cherished and never forgotten. He was quite simply a brilliant teacher to boys of all ages and abilities, and I've got no hesitation in calling him the best I ever had, including those he himself looked up to at Cambridge.

RIP Conn, and Go Raibh Míle Maith Agat.

Damian McBride (FCHS alumnus)

P.S. The picture follows another one of the extra-curricular projects Conn put me on: the Young Historian awards 1990 for my work on the 1879 Zulu War. A proud day for me, my Mum and Dad at the British Museum, and I hope for Conn too.