Tribute to Michael Foot

Following the untimely death of Michael Foot on 21 January 2022, Wendy has received a huge number of tributes to Mike, some of which are reproduced on this page.  Mike and Wendy were the instigators of the Robert Foot Leukaemia Fund which was started the day after Rob’s funeral in 2002.


With permission from Wendy and with agreement of Paul Berry we present below the full transcript of Paul’s Eulogy at Mike’s Funeral:



Mintlyn Crematorium, King's Lynn, February 9, 2022



Everyone here will have memories of Mike and it is the hope of Wendy, Helen & Jon, James & Gemma, that many of these can be shared today.  To me, he was a steadfast friend of 42 years.  He was the unlikely Cupid (albeit lacking the nappy, bow and arrow) who introduced me to a young student teacher visiting one of his schools.  She would go on to become my wife and Mike was obvious choice for Best Man when we married. Later, with Wendy, they would become god-parents to our sons.


Mike means many things to me and he will mean many things to you. But how do you begin to convey a sense of the man he was?  How do you capture in a few words those ideals and principles which were the tenets of his life?  Where do you start?


What better place to begin, than to celebrate his arrest by the police in the 1960s and his subsequent court appearance where he was bound over to keep the peace. As an idealistic young student, he had taken part in the Aldermaston Marches, to Trafalgar Square, London, in opposition to nuclear weapons.


So many people were participating and being arrested that law courts would try a dozen protestors at a time.  So it was unusual when Mike's turn came and he was ushered into the dock alone.  Court officials had seen the name, Michael Foot, and thought it was the Labour politician and veteran CND campaigner.  On realising it was a callow youth, magistrates quickly filled the court with more protesters and justice was swiftly dispensed en masse.  It was a source of pride to Mike to be mistaken for a man who was one of his heroes.


Mike wasn't from a background of protest or dissent: born in 1943, the elder of two brothers, his mum Irene worked in shops and offices and dad Bill was a manager with North Thames Gas Board.  Childhood was spent in Fulham and on leaving school he worked in the office of an insurance company.  He stood it for a year, before being accepted as a student to train as a teacher.


It was while studying in 1962, that he would meet Wendy, who was at teacher training college in Putney.  To this day she remembers Mike's arm tentatively enfolding her shoulder at a party.  They married four years later, cannily on Mike's birthday, thus ensuring he would never forget their anniversary. They would be blissfully married for 55 years.


A series of jobs in Gloucestershire and Buckinghamshire ensued, until the arrival of  Robert in 1969 and Helen sixteen months later. In 1976 the family moved to West Norfolk when Mike was appointed to the headship of Clenchwarton Primary School.  It was a role Mike excelled in, heading a talented team. The curriculum included arts festivals which extended into the community, publishing books of pupil's poetry and making an LP record showcasing the children's creativity.


Six years later he was appointed as headteacher at Reffley Primary School in King's Lynn which, under his management, became the largest primary in the county. But changes were afoot. Central government was intent on taking control and restructuring education.  A proscribed National Curriculum was developing with the imposition of literacy and numeracy hours.  And, anathema to Mike, children's progress would be regularly tested, with public 'league' tables of school results.


These developments went against the principles of child centred education which Mike had dedicated himself to, as classroom teacher and school leader.  During the consultation process he engaged in frequent dialogues with the embryonic Ofsted and the Department of Education.  But the die was cast and wholesale reform of schools and education was inevitable.


For a principled practitioner like Mike, it was difficult to implement measures he didn't believe in.  In 1995 he left the profession, after helping to shape and inspire thousands of lively, enquiring minds, in a career that spanned almost three decades.


His chair of governors offered a job in his warehouse which gave the freedom to work with other like minded teachers and leaders.


It resulted in publication of a book called Let Our Children Learn. In a Foreword a distinguished academic and educationalist would describe Mike and his collaborators as unquiet spirits whose voices are like dogs barking in the night but whose message does more than telegraph hidden danger … [it] provides a voice of hope in a world full of confused messages.


But in 2002 Mike, Wendy and Helen's world was shattered when Rob died, having been diagnosed earlier with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.  Rob worked as a government civilian advisor to the military and had seen service in Bosnia and Sierra Leone, for which he was awarded the OBE.


From the pain of their grief, Mike and Wendy established a charitable fund in Rob's name and threw themselves into raising money to provide additional services to patients and families at those hospitals which treated him. Across two decades, they have raised more than two hundred and twenty thousand pounds and the well-being of countless young patients and their families has been enhanced by their endeavours.


So what did Mike do to relax?  Not flatpack furniture, for sure, that was always left to Wendy. But he loved music, with tastes ranging from Al Bowley and the 1930s dance bands, to twentieth century English composers: Elgar, Moeran and, of course, Gerald Finzi.


He had a passion for sport, owning part shares in a race horse. He enjoyed football, was an avid fan of Fulham and Wisbech Town, and you will see a Fulham scarf adorning Mike's coffin today.  He loved cricket, an interest passed on to Rob, Helen and grand-daughter Gemma.


He was a lifelong train enthusiast and had enjoyed firing and driving steam locomotives on heritage lines in Norfolk and Hampshire, and sharing the delights of creating and landscaping layouts with grandson James – though for Mike it had to be Hornby three-rail.


He was a keen gardener and briefly proprietor of Mike's Mints.  Who knew there were so many different varieties of a simple aromatic herb? Mike certainly did and, for a while, cultivated most of them! He introduced me to pink fir-apple potatoes for salads and my mother to eating uncooked broad beans straight from the pod.  He guided my mother in law to his compost heap and encouraged her to inhale deeply upon aromas emanating from mysterious alchemies deep down among the kitchen waste and lawn cuttings.


But it was his family that gave him deepest joy and pleasure. It would manifest itself furthering Rob's legacy as a force for good in the world; in celebrating the achievements of Helen and Jon; and in ongoing contact with Rob's wife Kath and her family.


And, of course, in the lives and achievements of his grandchildren.  James is an international triathalete, and in 2019 was placed among the top third  finishers at Lausanne, Switzerland.  Mike's claim to cycling excellence was passing the National Cycling Proficiency test at the age of 52, when Reffley staff presented him with his first bicycle as part of their farewell gift.


(And if I may go briefly off script to say that two former Reffley staff have key roles in today's service. Our officiant was formerly a teacher and now following a new vocation, and a colleague who provided music for all those school collective worships is playing the organ today for Mr Foot's final assembly.  But back to Mike's grandchildren....)


Gemma is currently player of the year for Alton men's 2nd cricket team and the first woman to score a century in the 100 year-old history of the Hampshire/Surrey league.  Mike's proudest cricketing moment, as a 'fearlessly neutral' umpire, was to give 'out' to two Cabinet secretaries, during a match between Fund supporters and Rob's former Civil Service colleagues.


In recent months, it was a source of massive pride to Mike that Helen, who, having seen the time and dedication required of her parents in the course of their work, swore she would never become a teacher, yet is now, via classrooms and the advisory service, a published author on education matters and one term into her first, interim headship.


Mike's work, his legacy, his passion, his principles, his inspirational desire to do good and make a difference, looks assured and set to continue prospering.


I began by suggesting there will be many memories of Mike. After press reports of his death, I took a call from a lady whose family had attended Reffley school. Distressed at his passing, she recalled collecting her grandsons after school. She told me: In the playground you always knew where Mr Foot was. He would be surrounded by children – just like the Pied Piper.  He knew all their names and was interested in each child and they loved and respected him.


In the enviable way doctors have of making accurate assessments, a retired hospital consultant who'd first met Mike when Rob was ill twenty years ago, on hearing news of Mike's death, wrote in a message of condolence, that Mike is a person who has done great good throughout his life.


A person who has done great good throughout his life and the Pied Piper of the playground. Can there be two better ways of remembering Michael William Foot?