It is with great sadness we have learned that David Emms, who was Cranleigh’s headmaster between 1960 and 1970, died on December 21. He was 90.
After Tonbridge and then serving with the Royal Artillery from 1943 to 1947, he studied Modern Languages at Oxford. He graduated in 1950 and in the same year married Pam, who was his lifelong companion and a vital support throughout his career. They had four children. A good rugby player, he won Blues in 1949 and 1950, and went on to represent Northampton, Eastern Counties and the Barbarians.
In 1951 he became an assistant master at Uppingham, going on to head its Modern Languages department, before being appointed as Cranleigh’s Headmaster in 1960. He was 35.
He arrived at a School at its lowest ebb following the resignation of Henry March as Headmaster in 1959. A decade later, as he prepared to leave, he said he had inherited “a temporarily unhappy public school, a school in crisis”. In his 10 years at Cranleigh he is credited with raising academic standards, bringing in coeducation, recognising hard work and achievement amongst the pupils, involving parents, returning the school’s family atmosphere and introducing many changes to bring the school in line with the times. While he had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian, he also allowed pupils greater freedom to express themselves creatively, encouraging groundbreaking dramatic performances.
After a four-year spell at Sherborne, in 1975 he was made Master of Dulwich College where he remained until 1986. In 1984 he was chairman of the Headmasters’ Conference. In retirement he remained very busy with a number of positions and governorships.
He maintained close links with, and a deep affection for, Cranleigh. In 2009 he opened the £10 million Emms Centre. “One of the great honours was the naming of the Emms Centre.” he said. “Pam and I thought it would be a small classroom block and it turned out to be a remarkable building.” Such an influential and important figure in Cranleigh’s history deserved nothing less.
Mike Payne, who Emms appointed in 1967 and who remained in close touch, said: “He was a great man in every sense. He filled rooms with his presence. He was my idea of a leader, and he had a warmth and capacity for friendship which marked him out as very special. No-one has taken greater pride in Cranleigh than David. I feel proud to have known him.”
Martin Williamson OC