Jim CORBETT (retired in 1996)
This autumn Jim Corbett retires as Bursar after twenty years' service in the School - years which have seen extraordinary growth and development and in which he has played a central part. Bursars do not typically have a good press. They are often seen as remote figures who say "no" to teachers' schemes. We have been blessed with a Bursar whose predisposition has always been to say "yes", and our excellent buildings, beautiful grounds and well-developed services are in no small part due to his work.
Jim Corbett was born on a farm in New Zealand, a country for which he retains a strong affection and to which he returned for a short holiday in 1995 en route to the Australian Bursars' Conference in Adelaide. He came to England with his family at the age of eight and later attended a grammar school in Cheltenham. His first ambition had been to be a lawyer. He worked for a solicitor in Cheltenham for two years after leaving school but the salary, a princely sum of fifteen shillings a week, was less alluring than advertisements for the Royal Navy and in 1948 he joined the Navy as a writer in search of more personal freedom.
Jim greatly enjoyed twenty-two years of varied service in the Navy. Before being commissioned in 1957 he had served in Earl Mountbatten's personal office at the new N.A.T.O. headquarters in Malta. Later postings included Secretary to the Naval Officer i/c Malaysia during the war in Indonesia and at a Polaris Base in Scotland. He also enjoyed a strong connection with hockey, both playing and umpiring, and he was a Southern Counties and Combined Services umpire for some years.
The globe-trotting itch had ceased by 1969 when Jim left the Navy to work in industry, first with Colt Ventilation and then with I.B.M. as a financial manager near Winchester. Probably his most significant career move came four years later when he was appointed Bursar at Shiplake College, a smallish and very attractive independent school near Henley. Here he cut his teeth as a Bursar and eventually moved to Haberdashers' in 1976.
Academically the School at that time was in many ways much as it is today; physically it was less recognisable. Financial constraints imposed by the Direct Grant system made building development and even major maintenance very difficult; facilities were far more limited than they are today. Jim Corbett's predecessor, John Burroughs, was a former colonial administrator from Kenya whose job necessarily was to maintain a steady state and who kept regular hours, unlike Jim, whose light is often burning at 7.00 or 8.00 at night and at weekends.
For Jim the last twenty years have passed in a flurry of busy activity and he says that he has enjoyed almost every minute of it. His arrival followed shortly after that of the Girls' School and he has played his part in the gradual approchement of the two schools and the good co-operation that now exists between us. By developing a first-rate grounds team he has brought our beautiful grounds to their present fine condition and, less dramatically but equally essentially, he has ensured a very high level of care and maintenance of our premises, particularly the flimsy original Laingspan buildings which have long outlived their original life expectancy.
Of course, the last twenty years have seen a dramatic improvement in the extent and quality of our buildings and undoubtedly Jim Corbett's major interest and achievement has been the oversight of these changes including the establishment and development of the Bates Dining Hall, major refurbishment of the swimming pool, the new Preparatory School, the Design Centre in the old B.B.C. block, the Sports Hall and, more recently, the Bourne Building, the new Modern Languages Department where the Library used to be and the all-weather Pitch.
Despite his busy life in school, Jim has also become a major figure in the Independent Schools' Bursars' Association, serving on the National Committee, and organising their annual conference for the last twelve years. He is also very active with the Institute of Administration Management (Chairman 1983) and he is a voluntary counsellor for the Institute of Management.
In retirement he hopes to continue his contacts with I.S.B.A. and he will also serve as a governor of local schools including a large maintained school. He and Mrs Corbett plan to stay in Hatch End where they have many roots and good friends. We wish them both great happiness for many years to come.