Part of Portadown died on Monday morning with the
passing of Mr. Donald Woodman, at Craigavon Hospital. Mr. Woodman was
best known as former headmaster of Portadown College, but he devoted his
enormous talents and energies to many good causes.
Indeed he gave his life to the many varied interests in which he was
involved heart and soul. Of course, his number one involvement was
Portadown College, where he was headmaster for 27 years until his
retirement in June 1973. And tomorrow, Thursday, the school is paying
him the biggest tribute possible, by NOT postponing the annual speech
day. Says the present headmaster Mr. T. H. Armstrong, "Mr. Woodman's
life was this school and the normal running of it. I am absolutely
convinced that the last thing he would have wanted would be the
postponing of speech day. Therefore, in memory of his name, we are going
ahead as usual." There will, of course be a special mark of respect for
Mr. Woodman tomorrow and the school is planning a special memorial
service later in the term.
What Mr. Woodman did for the school will never be known. Every one of
the several thousand pupils has his or her own special memory, a
personal treasure of a man it was a privilege to have as 'Head'. If
there is one criticism of the man, it is that he worked too hard. His
one failure was that he had to be 'doing' rather than delegating many of
the one-thousand-and-one tasks around the school.
Even at his final assembly in 1973, he organised a party of boys to
stack away the chairs so that the caretakers would not be burdened by an
additional task. And that was his first day back after a shattering
heart attack that had laid him up in hospital for several weeks. As Mr.
Armstrong says, his life was the school. He taught Latin, Greek,
English, Ancient History and Religious Education as well as organising
just about everything in the school. At one stage, he even acted as
boiler-stoker when a caretaker was off ill. That was in the 1950s. Even
during his retirement, Mr. Woodman simply had to be involved in the
teaching profession, and worked part-time at Killicomaine Junior High
School teaching his beloved Latin and R. E. His infectious enthusiasm
soon earned him the respect of the pupils there as was the case at P.C.
A Londoner, Mr. Woodman came to Ulster just after the war in which he
served as a lay padre in the Royal Navy. He was a Graduate of London
University and was awarded the British Empire Medal. During his career
as 'Head' at the College, he saw the school blossom from its former
buildings at Bann House to the fine complex at Killicomaine Road, near
his own home. He also played a leading part in the 'Dickson Plan' for
comprehensive education, ten years ago. His greatest strength as a
'Head' was that his discipline moved with the times. The rigid
discipline of the 1940s and 1950s mellowed into the 1960s and 1970s,
until the pupils regarded him almost as a kindly uncle in latter years.
Despite that heart attack of 1973 - or perhaps because of it - he really
flung himself into good causes like the local Multiple Sclerosis
Society, of which he was president. And just about every voluntary group
in Portadown clamoured for his services as speechmaker and raconteur.
None could tell a story with a better turn of phrase and few had a
richer life from which to draw those stories. He had often said that had
he not joined the teaching profession he would have become a minister in
the Church of England. He was, actually, a Church of Ireland lay reader
and those who heard his all-too-few sermons will always remember them.
But Mr. Woodman's greatest gift was his complete selflessness. The best
obituary that can be penned for him was done unwittingly by himself only
last week. During his latest illness at Craigavon Area Hospital where he
was admitted a fortnight ago, he wrote a poem as a tribute to everyone
concerned with the building and the smooth running of the hospital
entitled 'Bless 'em all'. It was carried in Friday's 'Portadown News'.
The poem sums up his feeling for his fellowman. Never once did he
mention his illness, which was to prove fatal. Rather he concentrated on
the people who had made such a wonderful hospital available in the area.
In fact, his poems have enriched the columns of the local Press over the
past months and have covered the murders of local people in the troubles
including one of his ex-pupils and a policeman recently killed.
Typically, he has requested that no flowers be sent for his funeral
today (Wednesday). Instead donations are to be sent to the Royal British
Legion Benevolent Fund, one of the many causes dear to his heart.
Donations may be sent to Dr. George Dougan, 19 Church Street, Portadown.
The service will be at Portadown Parish Church (St. Mark's) at 2.30 p.m.
and Mr. Woodman's body will be laid to rest at Seagoe Cemetery. Mr.
Woodman who was 64, is survived by his wife Flora and son George, who is
a student at the University College of Aberystwyth, Wales.
Portadown will certainly miss the unique sight of the retired headmaster
who cycled everywhere with suitcase balanced precariously across the bar
and handlebars. The town will never forget the 29 years he spent among
us, educating our children and enriching the lives of everyone fortunate
enough to know him.
Portadown College Class of 1972