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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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Patrick, David Alan (1955–2009)

by Malcolm Brown

People taking up teaching as a profession are often seen to disappear for several decades and then reappear as retirees, but some within the space of their careers have such an impact that their memories linger on.

They are regarded as ''great teachers'' and in private schools, where archival records are so important, their names are mentioned for generations. Such was the case with David Patrick, who taught at a number of schools, including Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore) and Sydney Grammar.

David Alan Downes Patrick was born on March 28, 1955, the eldest of four children of a bookstore manager, Alan Patrick, and his wife, Helen (nee Cock). Growing up in Sydney's northern suburbs, Patrick displayed an early interest in music, performing in Gilbert & Sullivan's HMAS Pinafore with the Forest Anglican Musical Society at the age of 15, and went on to perform in other musicals.

In 1964 his father was ordained an Anglican minister. With the benefit of an Archbishop's Scholarship, Patrick did his secondary schooling at Shore. Being of small build, he took up the one sport to which small boys at GPS schools are often suited. He became a coxswain, and coxed Shore's First V111 in 1971. Following an arts/law degree at Sydney University, Patrick was briefly a boarding master at Shore, then joined a legal firm at Brookvale.

In 1980, Patrick spent a year travelling. He then joined a legal firm in Camden, but in 1983 succumbed to his love of education and joined the staff of Blue Mountains Grammar School.

In 1986 he moved on again, and for four years taught English at Clayesmore School, Dorset, during which he also got a commission as reservist in the Royal Devon and Dorset Regiment.

In 1991, he went to Trinity Hall at Cambridge and did his master of philosophy degree. His thesis was: The Role of the British Consuls in the Development of the Danubian Principalities. He later presented a lecture on the topic in Krakow, Poland.

Patrick taught in London in 1992 and 1993. The following year he joined Shore, teaching history, and remained for 12 years. It was there that he flourished. His combined knowledge and wisdom caught the imagination of many students. As a teacher he was seen as brilliant, vibrant, imaginative, giving and caring, ''the best teacher ever''.

He was one who ''opened new worlds'' to those he took under his wing. His brother Ian said: ''To him no one was unimportant, everybody had a story to tell and a valuable opinion. He made you feel interesting and encouraged you to justify and think through your beliefs and attitudes.''

A close friend, Bradley Wells, put it: ''It was as if the whole world was an archaeological dig with treasures waiting to be discovered.''

After news of Patrick's death went out, tributes to him were overwhelming. Many students said that he had left an indelible mark on their development, brought history alive to them and affected their course in life.

One former student, Andrew Lampe, said: ''David was both an extraordinary teacher and mentor to me. His fast and vivacious intellect meant that his history classes demanded your brain to keep pace. His depth and breadth of knowledge should have been intimidating, except that as a teacher and later as a mentor he never condescended.

''I think this is something unique. It seems most great intellects in this world lack humility that it seems almost a contradiction that David could have the sharpest wit and yet remain full of kindness. As an educator he was an amazing encourager, literally he would give courage to his students. I think this stemmed from the infectious way he just brimmed with life, passionately engaged with ideas, facts, beliefs and of course history.''

Patrick took Shore boys on trips to Gallipoli and France. He had a special connection with World War I. His maternal grandfather, Morris Cock, had been on Holly Spur at Gallipoli and his paternal grandfather, Reginald Patrick, fighting in France, had been present when the Red Baron came down.

On his first trip to Gallipoli, he gave each boy the name of a Shore boy who had died there, and the other Shore master who accompanied them the name of a former Shore master who had died there. The pupils, and probably the master, were required to learn everything they could about the person whose name they bore, then stand by the grave and tell the others what they had learnt.

In 2006, Patrick joined Sydney Grammar where his teaching was marked with similar success.

With a religious interest acquired from his father he held discussion groups at his home in Crows Nest. He included in his gatherings a Presbyterian, various Anglicans and even a Benedictine monk. Wells said: ''I will long remember a dinner I hosted nicknamed the CCC (Clerical Culinary Conversation), at which David and various clergy friends of ours ate, drank and solved the world's problems over glasses of port and tokay well into the night.''

Patrick became an HSC and Catholic school examiner in modern history and for 10 years was a marker for the Higher School Certificate.

Patrick's funeral was at St James Anglican Church, Turramurra, with pupils of Sydney Grammar providing a guard of honour.

David Patrick is survived by his parents, brother Ian, sisters Jillian and Allie, and 12 nephews and nieces.

Original publication

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Patrick, David Alan (1955–2009)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 9 August 2022.

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