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Thank you Mr Robertson

This week, for the fourth time in three years, Warwick School has found itself dealing with the loss of a much-loved member of our community.  Tragically Mr Robertson (Dan) lost his battle with liver cancer on Tuesday. He leaves behind a wife, our colleague, teacher, and friend Kat, and two children.  I am incredibly grateful that we were able to share news of his illness with the community before the Christmas holiday. This gave those closest to him an opportunity to contact him, and I know that the messages he received from pupils meant a huge amount to him. That his last days were calm peaceful and pain free, that he enjoyed Christmas with his family, and died surrounded by those he loved, is some consolation. 

Despite this, and even though I was prepared for the news, I have found myself deeply affected by Dan’s death and have been forced to regularly remind myself of my own advice: grief affects people in different ways, and it is OK not to be OK. I held a deep respect for Dan professionally and I liked him enormously, working with him was always hugely rewarding and fun!  In one of our last conversations, Dan was worried that he was struggling to do his job and that consequently people might think negatively of him.  I reassured him that his legacy was intact, and that legacy was inspiring a love of music and a joy in performance in a generation of Warwick School pupils. This was confirmed by messages and conversations over the last few days.  

‘I feel very proud to have played with and been taught by Mr Robertson.  My music making memories are some of the fondest I have from my time at Warwick…’ 

‘Mr Robertson is the reason I play the trumpet.’ 

‘May Mr Robertson’s legacy be a shining light that continues to inspire more kids to try and more kids to love music.’ 

Dan had this impact because he was prepared to do things differently, and was never one to allow practicalities to stand in the way of a good idea. One of my strongest memories of Warwick School music is watching Dan emerging stage-right to conduct the Supertonics, resplendent in cape and mask.  Only recently did I discover that the eye holes in his mask were so small that he could barely read his sheet music!  And who will forget the sight of Dan conducting the Supertonics with a lightsaber!  Although Mr Robertson undoubtedly produced work of higher musical merit with other groups and ensembles, to me it is the Supertonics that will always be most closely associated with Dan.  Under his stewardship, what had been a Lower School wind-band, averaging 15 musicians, became a supergroup of over 100 smiling boys and girls playing a mixture of theme tunes and pop songs to the delight of audiences.   

I also take huge solace in the fact that Dan’s life, although unfairly cut short, was a life well-lived.  Although none of us truly know how we would react if we were to find ourselves walking in Mr Robertson’s shoes, I think most of us would at least consider quitting our jobs and working our way through our “bucket lists”.  I vividly remember when Dan told me about his diagnosis; he was very clear in his mind about how he wanted to spend the time he had left, and it wasn’t swimming with dolphins or walking the Inca Trail!  No, Dan’s bucket list was far closer to home – he simply wanted to live his normal life: spend time with his family; get outdoors; teach music to his pupils; and lead his ensembles.  How many of us could say the same?  

Despite increasingly poor health and considerable pain, Dan was able to conduct the Foundation Symphony Orchestra and m/c the Christmas Cracker at the end of last term. This meant a great deal to him.  He certainly went out with a bang when the Massed Band of Warwick School, featuring over 200 musicians, concluded the Cracker with their own version of Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody.   

As one parent wrote this week; 

‘The concert on 8th December was a very special event. To think how hard it must have been for him, and then not only to produce, conduct, host, play his instruments but also be his normal jovial self for his students and audience was an absolute miracle.’ 

This was all the more miraculous because, as I only later found out, Dan was administering pain relief off-stage between numbers.  Even at the end this was an example, admittedly extreme but not atypical, of Mr Robertson’s commitment to his vocation.  

‘He was everything a music professional in an educational environment should be and more! Dan Robertson alongside the whole of the Warwick school music community is the reason I have a son who loves music, who is unafraid to try and acknowledges what a privilege it has been to be surrounded by such wonderful musicians.’ 

Dan, you were an inspiration to all who knew you, and Warwick School and the world are a far poorer place for your absence.  

Thank you.