JL Lord: Headmaster 1968-1980

Louis Lord

Louis Lord

In February 1968 Mr Darbyshire gave notice of his impending retirement. The Board then made a dramatic, and, in the modern history of the Academy, an unprecedented decision. After a great deal of deliberation, it decided to appoint Mr JL Lord, Vice-Principal since 1948, as Mr Darbyshire's successor without advertising the position. The members accepted that, as a general rule, vacancies should be advertised, but in this instance, the qualifications, the experience and the personal qualities of the Vice-Principal were of such an exceptional standard, that they could do no better than offer him the headmastership. The Warden, Mr George Bustard, attended upon the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education to explain why the Board believed that Lord was uniquely qualified to succeed Darbyshire, and the officials of the Department accepted his reasoning.

A native of County Cavan and a former pupil of the Masonic School in Dublin, Louis Lord had distinguished himself at Trinity College where he was Auditor of the College Historical Society (a position similar to President of the Oxford Union). He subsequently graduated with a First Class Moderatorship in Modern History and Political Science. He joined the staff of the Academy in 1946. Darbyshire quickly recognised the calibre of Lord: his grasp of detail, his judgement, and his capacity for hard work, and within two years of his appointment to the  Academy, at the age of 29, he was promoted to Vice-Principal. Thereafter, Principal and deputy became friends and were united in by a sense of common purpose in the development of the school.

As a result of the expansion of the Academy in the post-war years, the administrative responsibilities of senior management increased significantly. By 1955 the burden of the Vice-Principal's responsibilities had proved so heavy, that on the appointment of Dr ATQStewart (later a distinguished Academic historian and broadcaster) to the History Department, Lord was able to surrender his A Level teaching in order to commit himself more fully to his ever-increasing range of managerial duties. This step had been given greater urgency after Darbyshire's heart attack in 1951 which obliged the Headmaster to reduce the scale of his activities. Lord did not suffer from any fear of exercising his authority. As the Academy expanded, his presence was felt in numerous aspects of school life: in maintaining an atmosphere conducive to academic success; in preparing elegantly phrased and perceptive memoranda; and in scrutinising the details of development as the various projects took shape

This then was the man whom Darbyshire announced as his successor on the 20th February 1968 and who as Headmaster  confronted, and triumphed over, more difficult challenges than those faced by any of his predecessors. His most senior colleagues in these tasks were Frederick White who became Vice-Principal, and Miss N M Savage, who  became Deputy Principal in 1975, in  which position she was succeeded by Rosemary McIlroy in the following year.

Lord's accession to the headmastership coincided with the most serious civil unrest in Northern Ireland since the state had been established in 1920. There was to be a great deal of violence, some of it close to the school. By adopting appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the pupils and by insisting that the life of the school continue to operate normally, a not inconsiderable threat to its well-being was averted. Lord also realised the difficulties faced by the headmasters of other schools, and in the interest of everyone concerned with the containing community unrest, he met regularly with the headmasters of schools in the vicinity to minimise the possibilities of friction between Academy pupils and others as they made their way home.  Meanwhile the development programme continued. The Bruce Building was officially opened in 1971 and named for Dr William Bruce, the second, and generally acknowledged as the most illustrious, Headmaster of the Academy. In 1973 the Old Building was refurbished and renamed the James Crombie Building after an 18th century founder, and first Headmaster of the Academy. Across the Cliftonville Road, Wingfield was demolished, and in 1974 the site was cleared for the construction of a swimming pool.

Also in 1974, a Labour Government was returned to power at Westminster. In the following two years, government pronouncements, especially as embodied in the Cowan Report, made it clear that non-selective system education was to replace the existing system of grammar, secondary and technical schools. In due course, Dr J M Benn, Chairman of the Working Party on the role of the voluntary grammar schools in a comprehensive system, visited the Academy to discuss the Government's proposals with Mr Lord and the Bursar, Mr John Miskelly.

The headquarters of the campaign of resistance to these proposals was based in the Academy, and Lord, who had never been a man who courted publicity,  soon established a reputation as an eloquent and increasingly prominent spokesman for the traditional system. Never descending to rancour, even his opponents testified to the range of his oratorical skills and, as always, his superb command of the English language.

In 1979, the Conservative Party led by Margaret Thatcher, won the General Election, and with the subsequent change of personnel at the Northern Ireland Office, the “comprehensivisation” plan was abandoned. In November of the same year, Lord announced his decision to retire at the end of the summer term.

Lord's contribution to the educational and cultural development of the Academy was immense. Formally Headmaster since 1968, he had in fact been intimately involved  in the administration of the school for many years before that. In combating the two great challenges to the Academy in recent times, he had played a crucially important role. Fundamentally a shy man, this sometimes  manifested itself in an austerity of manner which the excessively sensitive could find discouraging. But he was always approachable, and unfailingly  solicitous of the uncertainties of others. All who knew him well testify to his sense of humour, fuelled as it was by a seemingly endless store of witticisms and apt quotation. Dr W A Maguire former Head of the Academy's History Department, and later Keeper of Local History at the Ulster Museum, once remarked that it was a happy chance that Lord's initials were incorporated in the Academy's postal code - BT14 6JL.