Ian Woods grew up in Essex where his father was Secretary to the family firm, Woods of Colchester, before taking holy orders and, whilst the family moved around England at the behest of the Church, they retained the home they had built before the war in Dedham village. Ian came to Sherborne in the Lent term of 1951, into Abbey House under Max Westlake, as one of only two new boys that term. At that time, new boys were only allowed to speak to boys of their own term or the term above, and he was particularly kind to the single new boy of the Trinity term, who only had the two boys of the Lent term to talk to.
Ian had an enquiring and scientific mind, and his engineering bent was fostered by the years of maths and science, his schooldays ending in the Maths & Science 6th form. He was a keen rugger player, also sang in the chapel choir, but his main passion was flying. He was an early member of the flying section of the CCF, and it was a great disappointment to him to be rejected at Cranwell for poor eyesight.
In the late fifties air-conditioning was becoming increasingly common in buildings in Britain and Ian started up Sound Attenuators, noise control engineers, to reduce the racket the air-conditioning units made. Ian was a successful man, and lived life fully, and he was extraordinarily generous in sharing what he had with others. His success in business allowed him to share his two passions – education and sailing.
A few years ago, David Sheppard spoke in the Abbey service of the great gift and privilege of a good education: nothing to be arrogant about but something to be used in the service of others. This was how Ian felt; he was ever grateful for and proud of his alma mater and his school years laid the foundation of the value he placed on good education and fostered in him the desire to give back as much as he had received.
For many years Ian was an enthusiastic supporter of an educational association which was founded in London in 1975 with the aims of giving children information on the simple principles of spiritual knowledge and to remind the child of the threefold human duty: to remember the Creator; to live according to the fine regulations of the Universe; to find the way back to God. The Schools – St James Senior School for Boys, St James Senior School for Girls, and the first school, St James Junior School, have grown and flourished and the Association now embraces Schools in many parts of the world.
He opened up for the St James boys the glorious world of sailing at sea – and this took some trust, because his boat got damaged occasionally and, next to his family, he loved his boat.
A vivid memory is of Ian on deck in a high wind in an awkward spot – manoeuvring in a confined space to avoid a very large Cross Channel Ferry. At the critical moment, the boy in charge of the jib-sheet let it go, and the enormous foresail billowed out. Ian took the time to say, “That was a very bad mistake”. Then he gave three or four clear orders and brought things under control. No great crisis, but it showed what he was like: calm, clear, decisive. There was never any doubt who was in charge when Ian was aboard. The boys thought the world of him. They would do anything for him. His sailing friends were amazed when they saw teenage boys, who should surely have been lolling about plugged into their ipods, up and swabbing the decks at dawn.
That was Ian the man of action. It was also Ian the philosopher. He was for most of his adult life a student of the School of Economic Science. Ian attended groups in London and in East Anglia, and went on looking after a group of his friends in Colchester even when, towards the end, he could hardly speak.
The heart of the School’s philosophy teaching is the truth about one’s Self. It says that the Self is immortal and indestructible. Ian understood this and lived it. The long-term leader of the School, Mr Leon MacLaren, was a charismatic but formidable figure, and many of his students were a bit afraid of him. Ian treated him with the utmost respect, but man to man. He took him on board his boat in rough weather. He took him up in his aeroplane and flew him across the Channel. He knew the value of his cargo, and he wasn’t going to let it get damaged, but he wasn’t afraid of risk either. He spoke to him respectfully, but without diminishing himself. They got on famously.
He was courageous in other ways too. In later years his body began to show some weaknesses; when muscular strength declined, he electrified his winches; when his hands shook, he got Suzanne to pour his drinks for him. He didn’t complain. Then the cancer appeared, and was treated; and later reappeared in an untreatable form. He faced the situation objectively. His comment was, “I’m back in the Departure Lounge”.
He had no time for self-doubt or self-criticism. He did not push himself forward; he was strong but happy to avoid the limelight. He was convivial, generous, open – hearted. A man of real stature, and a real friend to all who knew him.
One old boy of St James recalls:
For many years, Ian took members of the Senior Boys School sailing at week ends on his yacht, Salex; and sometimes on expeditions further afield to the Baltic and such like. But the highlight was the Annual inter-House Regatta that he hosted for at least a decade. With conspicuous educational vision, and great generosity, Ian would hire four identical yachts, one for each of the School houses, and with immense trust on his part and the minimum of supervision, he would set us off to do battle in the coastal estuaries off Ipswich, whilst he manned the start and finish line from his yacht, with a Klaxon horn and a gin or two!
For those boys fortunate enough to enjoy a number of these regattas and other expeditions, we learned about Ian’s character and loved it. Whether at the controls of a boat, a plane or a classic car, he was sure-footed, decisive, and confident. Naturally, he was a compulsive risk taker, which automatically appealed; but with his engineer’s brain and his philosophical manner he had the ability to carry it off safely. Cool in a crisis – and we saw quite a few to judge him by – and with great zest for life, he was a man one naturally looked up to and admired. He was for the boys an outstanding paternal role model. For a generation, Ian was also the father of the St James Old Boys Association, setting for the early pupils the bench mark of the generous benefactor. Never was wealth in better hands.
Ian died at home on the 20th February 2012, aged 74.