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John Davnall - Keelite of the Month, October 2016
1971 Economics & Chemistry
John Davnall came to Keele in 1967 after a year trying to develop glowing fingertips and webbed feet at Sellafield on the West Cumbrian coast were he had grown up. He enjoyed Keele so much that he stayed on for a year beyond graduation as the first post-graduate Secretary of the Students’ Union. His first employment was in administration at UMIST (now subsumed into Manchester University) for seven years. A year of teacher training at the then Manchester Poly led to six years of chemistry teaching in Derbyshire – with a large slice of 6th form General Studies (praise be to the Foundation Year) – followed by a year’s secondment to UMIST, joining a project on the management of secondary schools and, inter alia, leading to an MSc. A very rewarding period as a full-time house-husband through the infancy of his two children was followed, until retirement, by work across many subjects with children whose discipline or medical problems were keeping them out of school.
Photo left: In the news. John Davnall (left) with members of the Union Committee in 1970. Published in Concourse 27 November 1970; photo courtesy of The Sentinel.
John kept in close touch with Keele, serving on the Committee of the Keele Society (the forerunner of the present alumnus activity) and as one of the graduate representatives on the University Council. More recently, with friends, he has been present at the planting of several memorial trees.
What am I doing now?
I retired from employment 9 years ago. I keep busy in the way that all my retired friends seem to.
Photo right: Equipped for archery; photo by good friend Steve Ash.
How did you get to where you are now?
By aging, and working to others’ satisfaction on the way. I am lucky enough to have had a supportive wife and to have spotted opportunities for changes of direction in my employed life.
What has been your biggest achievement so far?
A settled family of interesting people with whom I am pleased to communicate. Less nebulously, I wouldn’t choose between my MSc and my ascents of the Inaccessible Pinnacle in the Skye Cuillin.
And your biggest mistake?
At 68, identifying a biggest mistake would imply that I can imagine a happier present being a direct consequence of having chosen to do a particular something different or differently. There were occasions when I should have acted more carefully so as to have retained better relationships.
Photo left: Those were the days - invitations to Royal Ball 1967, Graduation Ceremony 1968, Commemmoration Ball 1967.
What are your ambitions now?
To avoid leaving a mess.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Don’t stick to one field. My life has been enriched by “moving on” from time to time.
What made you choose Keele University?
I wanted to study the two Principal subjects that I did stick with, but I also wanted the opportunity presented by the Foundation Year to dabble in a couple of possible alternatives just in case….
What kind of a student were you?
Academically quite diligent to start with, but latterly I spent much time and effort on activity in the Union. It was beyond me to edit Concourse, be a Vice-President and the SU Secretary and manage sufficient study.
How has Keele influenced your life?
Most importantly, my student time at Keele has given me a secure legacy of family (thanks Sarah) and friends. I became, and remain, confident that I can follow up interests across a wide range of disciplines and activities – not to claim mastery, but to avoid confusion. The Union activity seems to have given me a taste for similar activity later on when I undertook trade union duties alongside my teaching career and took up officiating and representative activities in Archery.
Photo right: One of John Davnall's pieces and photo in Concourse - 27 November 1970, reflecting on the turbulent times of the summer of 1970. This was the fourth is a series of articles chronicling the times. The caption to the photo reads, "Three members of the Union Committee entering the reconvened Vice-Chancellor's Committee, June 15th". John is on the left of the trio. Photo courtesy of The Sentinel and page courtesy of Concourse.
What is your favourite memory of Keele?
There isn’t one, and if I started on the many I would use up too much space.
What is your impression of Keele now?
Sarah (Norman) (1970) and I enjoy returning to the campus – we have been so often that there has been little “shock of the new” as developments have come in. The grounds outside the built up area remain an appealing feature. I am always interested to see that Keele still scores highly in “student satisfaction” surveys.
Left: John (far right) and Sarah among Keele friends at the planting of a memorial tree for Rob Brown (1971) - Keele Memorial Garden, November 2014.
Anything else you would like to add?
If you are a recent graduate, do take the trouble to keep in touch with friends – some of mine got away and I now find that most mentions of Keele bring them to mind and make me wonder where they are now. My experience of the staff charged with alumni work is that they are very pleased to hear from me and to be helpful. The campus remains an open space, so you do not need to make arrangements to visit, but I’m sure that they would like to know if you intend to, or, indeed, if you did.