Skip to main content

Jack Peterson

(extract from the Eton Fives Association Annual Report 1977/78)

To his contemporaries at Shrewsbury Jack Peterson became almost a legend during our schooldays together. Every honour, scholastic or athletic, fell to him naturally and was received and worn with humility.

Headship of the School, de jure et de facto: pre-eminence in a Classical VIth Form, whose instructor was once overheard complaining to a colleague that the problem in marking Peterson's compositions was to find just cause for varying the sequence of 'alphas': caps and captaincies, for Cricket, Football and Fives, with special distinction in the last two. No wonder that we all looked up to him. Oxford added its tributes of laurels. A Classical Scholarship, followed in due course by firsts in Mods and Greats; and a Blue for Association Football, with the Captaincy of the side the following season.

Thence in 1925 to join the staff of Eton, by invitation of the Headmaster Dr Cyril Alington: and Fives had its turn once more. Three times he and his partner Charles Sheepshanks won the Amateur Championship for the Kinnaird Cup; twice in the 1930s and again after the War, by which time he had become a Housemaster.

He ran a notably happy and successful House; whose members, drawn rather than driven, came under the spell of his personality: until 1950 Shrewsbury once again reclaimed him and he left us to take up the Headmastership.

And a spell it certainly was, woven from a rare combination of qualities: wealth of talents, enhanced by modesty which at times bordered on diffidence: quiet humour, and wit which was always apposite but never unkind: total sincerity, and a faith which sustained him in the ordeal of personal tragedy caused by the illness and death of his wife, leaving him with a very young family.

Such a combination could not fail to influence those who had the good fortune to encounter it; and justifies the summary given to the writer, a few years ago, by one who had been a Governor of Shrewsbury School. He said "Every time I met Jack Peterson I came away feeling somehow the better for having been in his company." There will be many of us who would endorse this tribute.