The entire Fettes community is saddened to hear of the passing of our former teacher and Arniston Housemaster Eric Anderson who passed away on 22nd April 2020 aged 83. Our thoughts are with his wife Poppy and children David and Kate at this incredibly sad time.
Sir Eric arrived at Fettes in 1959 to teach English. Having received 1st Class Honours in English from St Andrews University, followed by a B.Litt from Balliol College Oxford, he was more than qualified for his position. As mentioned in the July 1964 edition of The Fettesian, it was Sir Eric’s dedication to helping the children he taught, bringing out the best in them, that secured the admiration felt by many. One rather modest member of his 5c English class is quoted in The Fettesian saying “I know we’re not a bright lot, but Mr Anderson goes to so much trouble to encourage us that we can’t just let him down.”.
Sir Eric’s commitment to Fettes went beyond the classroom and on to the playing fields. As he had played for Balliol College 1st XV while at Oxford, it was no surprise that he was always willing to coach rugby when at Fettes. Golf was Sir Eric’s main interest and, as with academics, he was committed to helping keen players develop their game every summer term.
We cannot remember Sir Eric without recognising his key role in boarding. His first position was as a house-tutor in Carrington before soon joining College East as an Assistant Housemaster. In both positions, Sir Eric’s chief interest was the boys of that house and their well-being (this was before Fettes was co-ed). It was also these roles where Fettes saw what an invaluable couple they had in Sir Eric and his wife, Poppy.
It was a great loss to Fettes when the highly respected Andersons moved to Gordonstoun in 1964 but we were delighted when they returned back to Fettes in 1967. The welcome challenge the Andersons faced was captaining the new boarding house, Arniston, with the first intake consisting of a mixed group of volunteers from different houses. Despite these differences and previous house allegiances, Sir Eric united the boys, making Arniston an equal of the other houses with its own traditions and identity. This drive for their new house and Housemaster saw Arniston nearly win the rugby house match final in their first year and every member of the house was involved in the first Arniston play. Sir Eric and Poppy created a happy and relaxed environment in which each boy was able to carve his own way whilst simultaneously remaining united.
Once again when the Andersons left for Abingdon School in 1970, Fettes was sad to see them go but knew their loss was another school’s gain. The legacy Sir Eric left in classrooms, on rugby pitches and of course in Arniston was one Fettesians carried with them and remain today an important aspect of Old Fettesians’ life.
With such a legacy, it was of course no surprise that Sir Eric often returned to Fettes. One notable occasion was Founder’s Day 2005, where Sir Eric, now the Provost of Eton, was the Guest of the Day. In his speech, Sir Eric made particular note to how impressed he was that OFs he had seen grow up at Fettes were now not only successful, but successful in such a range of different careers. Sir Eric was no stranger to Founder’s Day or Speech Days, stating that this was the 92nd he had attended across his life. He admitted to the marquee that across all of these, he could remember very little from what had been said but for the audience, the speech he gave that day would be hard to forget. John Lang (Ca 1962-1967) recalls that courtesy of British Airways baggage handlers, Sir Eric’s luggage, including his speech in his morning suit pocket, went astray. Despite this, Sir Eric delivered an excellent speech which true to form, contained caring consideration and advice for the Fettesians about to venture into the world.
Sir Eric holds a very special place in Fettes’ heart and shall be remembered fondly by all those whose lives he touched.
“ Eric Anderson achieved fame as a modernising head master of Eton but he was one of those rare individuals who through his scholarship, humanity, sense of humour and air of authority was equally valued and respected wherever he went, as teacher, housemaster and head of three leading independent schools. Possessed of gentle charm, he seemed to have time for everyone he met, high or low. He had a positive impact on the lives of very many pupils and staff; and, in common with David McMurray, that other giant amongst schoolmasters who learned his trade at Fettes, he will be remembered with a huge amount of affection.” Michael Osborne, Chairman of Governors