John passed away in the early hours of July 23. Michael Owen-Smith (1966O) has written a tribute for John.
The sad news of Michael John Charlton – John, as he was known to his legion of friends and Charlie to the generations of Bishops boys whose lives he impacted positively both inside and outside the classroom – reminds us all of the huge contributions the Charlton family made to Bishops.
Michael John Charlton (1954G) | 1936 - 2020
John, who was born on April 11, 1936, was virtually born into Bishops and the game of cricket because he grew up in Stanmore Cottage which was the family home throughout his father, George’s tenure as senior master of the preparatory school from 1928 to 1950. His father’s first love was cricket and the lawn of Stanmore Cottage became the scene of competitive cricket matches involving the likes of Gerald Innes, who went on to play for South Africa, and John’s elder sister, Sheilagh, who went on to captain the national women’s team.
John was a handy cricketer himself, keeping wicket for the Bishops 2nd XI and being actively involved in the development of the Oaks field which the boys constructed themselves under the guidance of the school's senior cricket master of the 1950s, Vincent Wells.
As part of his studies at UCT, he did his student teaching at the College before heading north to Zambia to continue his career. He joined the staff at Bishops Prep in 1960 and gave his everything to the school until he retired in 1996. During that time he served as an assistant housemaster at Birt House (then a boarding house at the Prep) and as housemaster appropriately of Charlton House.
He applied unsuccessfully for the post of Senior Master when Peter Anderson retired but was appointed deputy in 1988.
But there was a lot more to John than being a good administrator and teacher. He was an organiser supreme. He served on the ODU committee for many years and was solely responsible for the revival of the ODU annual banquet in 1972. The initial one at the Mount Nelson Hotel was a huge success, attracting some 330 people and it has been an institution ever since.
He was also the Honorary Match Secretary of the WP High Schools Rugby Union and its delegate to the WPRU committee for many years and Honorary Organising Secretary of the national under 13 cricket week from its inception in 1972 until he handed over the reins nearly two decades later. His love of cricket saw him take the lead in the foundation of the Stags – the staff cricket team – and he was captain and organiser of the Wednesday XI at WPCC for many years until its raison d’etre ceased to exist when it could no longer play on the main Newlands ground.
He ran Bishops Prep rugby for many years before passing the baton to Richard Skeels, and achieved the unusual distinction for a prep teacher of being asked by Anthony Mallett to run College athletics during the 70s and 80s. He turned the school into one of the powerhouses of athletics during that period and that included a successful tour to Johannesburg and Pretoria in 1976.
John’s organisation skills included taking the Prep rugby side on tour first to the Eastern Cape, KZN and Zimbabwe and finally to England for tours every four years from 1974 to 1982.
The ultimate recognition came both in the 1970s and then again in the 1980s when he was taken out of the classroom to run fund-raising campaigns for Bishops first in the Mallett era and then again in the John Peake era.
Being elected a vice-president of the OD Union was just recognition of all he did for the school he loved.
John’s interests stretched far beyond the classroom and the sports field. He was a leading light at the Owl Club and took an active interest in the activities of the UCT alumni association.
Possibly John’s greatest attribute, apart from his loyalty and enthusiasm for things he considered important, was his generosity. As a schoolmaster he was never going to earn much money – he once confided in me that his father retired from Bishops on a monthly pension of 50 pounds sterling! – but what he had he shared with his friends. The parties, first to honour his father’s birthday and later his Xmas parties, were legendary in their own right at the Charlton Arms – the pub he built himself out of a garden shed in his back garden and they were events not to be missed.
The best moment of his life was, however, still to come when he married June in December 1987. It was a moment of joy not just for John but also for all his close friends and we as a group all salute June and her extended family for the joy they brought into John’s life and for the way June looked after him when his health deteriorated in the closing years of his life.
A true giant of Bishops has gone to his rest. We will miss you and thank you for the impact you have made on our lives.
This tribute was prepared by Michael Owen-Smith (1966O)