24 April 2020

Sir Eric Anderson, 27 May 1936 – 22 April 2020

It is with great sadness that we hear of the death of Sir Eric Anderson, who was Headmaster at Abingdon School from 1970-1975. Our condolences go to his wife, Lady Elizabeth (“Poppy”) Anderson and their son David, The Rt Hon The Lord Anderson of Ipswich KBE, QC, and daughter, Kate.

Sir Eric Anderson was recognised as one of the leading headmasters and educators of recent times. He taught Prince Charles at Gordonstoun, was Tony Blair’s Housemaster at Fettes and the Headmaster at Eton College while David Cameron and Boris Johnson were pupils. His headship at Eton College lasted 14 years and he served a further nine years as Provost. Between these two appointments, he was Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford (1994–2000).

During his time at Abingdon, Eric Anderson was a hugely popular Headmaster, admired by boys, staff and parents. He was a modest, approachable and very talented leader, with broad interests in the arts and sport as well as strong academic credentials.

At the time of his appointment, the Abingdonian recorded an interview in which he expressed his strong support for the Direct Grant system, even then under political threat, and his attraction to Abingdon for its academic reputation and its happy and open culture. Ultimately, with the demise of the Direct Grant System, it was under his stewardship that Abingdon took the steps needed to evolve as the fully independent school it is today. He also spoke about his belief that schools must offer opportunities for all pupils outside the classroom “to find what absorbs and interests them even beyond formal education”, and about his approach to responsibility and leadership… “leadership does not mean shouting at someone, telling him what to do and checking he has done it… instead it is to persuade and to reason and to work alongside…”.

Speaking about Sir Eric, the Headmaster of Abingdon School, Michael Windsor said,

“His time at Abingdon was in the end only five years but he made an indelible mark on the ethos and fortunes of the School and remained a friend of the School to the end. One important part of his contribution was the renewal of the School’s links with the Mercers’ Company, reflecting the refounding of Abingdon by John Roysse, Mercer, in 1563 and resulting in significant philanthropic and governance contributions which persist to this day”.

Sir Eric’s last visit to Abingdon was in 2018 when he accompanied Poppy and Kate and his son in law, Will Gompertz, the BBC’s Arts Editor, to open Beech Court. Sir Eric was an Honorary Old Abingdonian and an immensely popular member of the wider school community. His contribution to education in general and to the fortunes of Abingdon School will long be remembered.

Simon Walker, OA, Head Boy 1974

Simon Walker remembers Sir Eric Anderson with great fondness and respect, he says,

“Eric Anderson arrived at Abingdon a year after me and left two terms after I did. I was Head Boy in 1974 so saw him every day. Sir James Cobban had transformed Abingdon, Sir Eric Anderson set it on course for the school it is today. He was utterly focused on what was best for the school. He appreciated right from the start of his first headmastership that what teenagers need is consistency and that is what he gave them. He never shied away from difficult decisions. He was fair and, as I saw from close up, compassionate where appropriate. Beyond those qualities he was also a great teacher. Finally, he was not working by himself. He and Poppy complemented each other perfectly and together made a great team. A personal memory would be the sheer unalloyed joy on his face standing on the touchline after a notable rugby win.”

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