In memoriam David B. Sutcliffe

Tribute by Sandy Thomas

With reason, David Sutcliffe has been described as a “Titan”, a “colossus”, but the word has yet to be coined that fully illuminates and captures that complex, rich vein of humanity that was the man, David.

The many stories told of him following his death, a kaleidoscope of snapshots, build up a picture of his immense influence and achievement, each image reconfiguring his qualities in a way that is personal and yet instantly recognisable to those who knew him.

I too have my stories but imagine him “looking over my shoulder”, scrutinising what I write in the way he always did, subjecting it to his unflinching honesty, alert to the slightest inexactitude, and not so interested in hearing praise of himself, preferring to focus on his vision and ways of achieving it. But I am going to defy him, just this once, and tell a little of his story through my eyes, adding to the kaleidoscope of memories.

One of the greatest honours ( and greatest surprises ) of my life was when David asked me to become his deputy in Duino (UWCAd). Working hand -in-glove with him for four years was a privilege I am thankful for and a period in my professional life beyond compare—-because of the person he was. He trusted me to get on with the job in my own way while protecting me with the shield of his huge, unassailable authority. Working with David was exciting, unorthodox and stimulating. You never knew what would happen next, but what you could be sure of was that something would! I well remember, when I was relatively new to the college and unused to its extraordinary pace of life, seeing a large number of students crammed in front of a notice board in the school building. They were looking incredulously at a blue piece of paper announcing that the whole school was going to Rome the following week by special overnight train! Was this a hoax? No, it was true——and we didn’t just go to Rome; we went to the Quirinale —-by invitation! UWC events like this one, soaring beyond the IB, encouraged by David, were frequent and these occasions are probably what most students and staff remember best. There were, of course, routines, but they were never dull and the here-and-now was always part of the bigger picture, consciously framed within and driven by the College’s mission. David was inseparable from this mission and his charisma kept it alive and in the forefront of our minds.

I can now imagine him getting impatient and saying, “This is all very well, but what are you going to DO now?”

The last time I saw David was twelve days before he died. It was an effort for him to speak but he wanted to talk about two subjects: the paintings of Piero della Francesca and the future of UWC. He never alluded to his illness except in so far as it had denied him the vigour to pursue his life’s work—the furthering of the essential spirit of UWC education in places where it is needed as the movement grows. On thinking about this precious last meeting, it seems to me that his moral courage and power to act arose not only from personal charisma and his unswerving determination to do what he believed was right and necessary, but also from the fact that he wasn’t held back by worries about what people thought of him, or by personal vanity.

So, “What are we going to do now?” It is up to us to do our best to carry on his work and “take a leaf out of his book”.Those hundreds, probably thousands, of us who were lucky enough to have been touched by his life, and feel indebted to him, can make a difference. If we all do something material in support of his vision, we too can become a formidable force—- and if we do, I think he would be proud —-or at least satisfied.

Sandy Thomas, 26th November, 2019.

I am honoured to have been invited to serve on the College Board of UWC Mostar, to follow in the footsteps of a man I so much admired, and to seek to further the dreams for Mostar that he was expressing so persuasively right to the very end.



David B. Sutcliffe's family has sent the following message to the UWC community: "We have been greatly moved and are immensely grateful for all the wonderful messages, memories and thanks to David, which have comforted and supported us at this sad time. David’s funeral will take place at All Saints’ Church, 122-122A High Street, Lindfield, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 2HS on Friday, 29th November at 11.30 am. Family and friends are welcome. There will be a reception afterwards at The Tiger (church hall) next door. Family flowers only. According to David’s wishes, any donations should please go to the UWC Mostar Endowment Fund for student scholarships. It is thought that there will also be a memorial event for David held in the New Year. With love from Elisabeth, Michael, Veronica and families.’