William Sillery: Headmaster 1980-2000.
William Sillery was the first graduate of either Oxford or Cambridge to become Headmaster of the Academy. Born and brought up in North Belfast, he was educated at Methodist College, where he captained the 1st cricket XI, and won a State Exhibition.
At Cambridge he was a student of modern languages, and was placed in the first class for French, and on coming down from St. Catharine’s College in 1962, he was appointed to the staff of the Academy.
Over the succeeding years Sillery quickly established a reputation as a gifted schoolteacher. He was appointed a Form Master in 1966, and, in 1968, in succession to Arnold Raw, he became Head of the Department of Modern Languages. For twelve years he took charge of the 3rd Rugby XV, and the notes on his successive teams were so perceptive and so consistently witty, that, had he not chosen a career as a teacher, his success as a sports journalist would have been assured.
Sillery was appointed Deputy Headmaster in in 1976. He became Headmaster on Mr Lord’s retirement in 1980, serving with distinction until 2000. His gifts as a skilled communicator were of enormous advantage as the Academy celebrated its bicentenary in 1985. In February of that year he welcomed an impressive body of religious, civic and academic leaders to a Service of Thanksgiving for the school in St Anne’s Cathedral - appropriately situated adjacent to the school’s original site in Academy Street. The guest on this occasion was Dr Eric Anderson, then Headmaster of Eton College, who remarked on the bounds of affection and trust which sustained the sense of common purpose that animated both teachers and pupils in the Academy.
The most dramatic event of the bicentenary year took place on 8th May. Mr Sillery and the Warden, Lord Justice Donald Murray, welcomed HRH Princess Anne, as she alighted from a helicopter at the Castle Grounds to officially open the new kindergarten. Thereafter, the Academy prepared for the other events that shaped the bicentenary year. On a number of such occasions Sillery eloquently described the forces and personalities that had guided the school in the two centuries of its existence as the oldest school in Belfast.
A man of high intelligence, culture and charm, Sillery was ideally suited to preparing and leading the school into the 21st century.