School photo

John Isaac

Tower 1955


Regarded as bright I entered the scholarship stream to ‘O’ level in two years. My Prep School report must have been interesting because after a year at St Lawrence I was bottom of the form and stayed for a second year in that form. Having moved up in year three in the same scholarship stream I had two more years coming bottom in that form! My mother always said that my father sent me  to school to play games and certainly I enjoyed that but academically fortnightly orders always meant that Monday was a time of dread. Encouragement - the cane - had the opposite effect to that intended.


Having failed all ‘O’ levels on the first time round, I managed to obtain 6 before I left, 4 science and two English. In those days dyslexia and learning difficulties were not recognized but the staff never lost interest in my progress and I must thank The Rev. Martin Martin-Harvey for his support and understanding. I never lost respect for him in spite of the relatively frequent confrontations with my backside. One accepted that that was the way in those days.


Hockey and Quad-hockey, and Tennis were my main interests but rugger was not a sport to which I aspired.  Having musical parents I found great pleasure in playing a piccolo and graduating to a flute in the school orchestra under the very talented Dennis Cocks. To Mr Cocks I am indebted to receiving the gifts of Bizet’s Symphony in C and Smetana’s Bartered Bride as he updated his 78’s to vinyl.  Being in the choir has also taught me to enjoy choral singing.


I was surrounded by very clever contemporaries who, although great friends, did unwittingly affect my lasting self image. Coming bottom I was nicknamed ‘Yobby’ – ‘Yob’ being a play on ‘backward boy’! Even my closest Lawrentian friend called me that to his dying day and it was not until I retired as a Managing Director that I realized that I could not have been that daft.


My affinity with SLC was such that I joined the Old Lawrentian Society and have been on the committee for most of my adult life.  My grammar school educated wife (also dyslexic but very clever) became an ardent supporter of SLC and all that it stood for. Every visit she remarked on the obvious happiness of the pupils and their smart appearance and polite helpfulness. My Reverend father, and my mother who had been three years at Bible College, brought me up to be a Christian and no doubt it was the SLC Christian foundation that drew them to Ramsgate. Whilst at school I supported the Christian Union regularly but it was not until on National Service in Korea that I consciously decided to ‘start again’ and work out for myself my faith and make it my own. However, I cannot say I was converted then because I had never been unconverted, thanks to my Christian parents.


On leaving SLC and waiting for National Service call up, I did some work as a builders’ labourer and also worked as an electrician’s mate on the local council estate installing electric wiring in council houses. Then I got called up. Starting in the Royal Sussex Regiment lead to officer training at Eaton Hall and then to join the regiment in Korea. I was immensely privileged to be given the Assault Pioneer Platoon which in an infantry regiment was the dog’s body that had to do everything from digging latrines to clearing minefields. I did not get to doing the former but I did have to clear and de-fuse mines. However, most of my time was leading my platoon in building a memorial to the ‘Glorious Glosters’ which I am glad to say is still there and regularly visited by Koreans and tourists alike. Having taken six weeks to sail to Korea in HMT Devonshire in comparative luxury, it only took five weeks to sail in HMT Asturias to our next assignment in Gibraltar. As the Assault Pioneer Platoon was being disbanded as an infantry unit I found my life had little ‘army’ and much sport as battalion sports officer and plenty of hockey on an all weather pitch.


Returning home in December after National Service I had to work out what to do next. On February 3rd 1958 I joined a major firm of Lloyd’s brokers and set my heart on making it my life. However, exam experience dissuaded me from taking insurance exams so the only qualification I had was experience. When I became a director in 1973 I realised that if I had done the exam courses without taking the exams, the incidents that one comes across as a broker would have made more sense in half the time. Many events would fly over one’s head because one had not ‘done the homework’. However, by joining a small firm one had to have a very broad general knowledge and ‘we try harder’ to compete with the very much larger firms.


Later on in my career my broad general knowledge was invaluable as a consultant to major banks lending big money to ship owners who assigned their insurance as security to the bank. In the last ten years of my career, my colleague and I set up and ran a specialist broking house where he, the entrepreneur, drove flat out on the Cresta Run from the front of the bobsleigh whilst I was behind as his brakeman. It was a most exhilarating experience and very gratifying to see that the company 20 years later is very considerably larger than when I retired.


At about the time of retiring I was invited to become a governor of St Lawrence under Gordon Mungeam.  During the next ten years St Lawrence did more development and enhancing of the college than had been achieved in the previous fifty years. I was always very keen that the Christian ethos of the school should not be compromised and governors were expected to sign, agree and support its core principles. Under the present Principal I am glad that the agreement has been made even more explicit. St Lawrence is a Christian school. It is to be noted that parents of other faiths are happy that their offspring should be educated in this Christian environment where the Christian principles are foremost.  Those values of love in the widest sense, integrity and respect underlie and provide for a positive career and contribution to society and family life.


John Isaac at OL Dinner 2017

Copyright St Lawrence College 2018