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


Fortiter et Humaniter


Craigavon Times Obituary (1975)

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