Jonny Webb - OB 1990-1995

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We regret to report the passing of Jonathon (Jonny) Webb who attended the School between 1990 and 1995. His friend and fellow OB John Gardiner has provided this fulsome tribute to a life well-lived but sadly ended by cancer at the early age of 45 on 2nd April. 

Jonny attended Borden Grammar between 1990 and 1995. I knew Jonny from later in his life, but we overlapped at Borden for a while and we used to joke that I might once have given him a detention. ‘Did you become a prefect?’, I much later asked Jonny. ‘No!’, he replied, with a vigorous shake of the head and one of those amused grimaces which always signalled, for him, awareness of perhaps a little more fun enjoyed than sticklers might have condoned. Jonny once described his time at Borden to me as lively. (‘Lively’ was a very Jonny adjective.)

Enjoyment of Borden was something Jonny experienced. Its teachers were a shared point of reference and allusion for us down the years. In our own staffroom, without announcement, Jonny and I would deploy familiar phrases from our time at Borden. For instance, only very recently did Jonny indicate to me that something was perfectly straightforward with a wiggle of the forefinger and a fruity ‘No catch!’. In itself that phrase, often used by Mr Sayer of Modern Languages, might have made sense to a third party; the flurry of more or less imaginary French which followed on Jonny’s part certainly would not. We fondly remembered the teachers at Borden c.1990 – Mr Short, Mr Carter, Dr Butler, Mr Davies, and so on. For Jonny, Jeremy Paxman might be all very well as a presenter of University Challenge, but it was really Mr Smith who was the ‘original’ host.

After leaving school Jonny took some time to find his vocation, although one feature of the late 1990s, his knowledge of chart music mastered on the dance floors of Ibiza and Sittingbourne, would always remain with him. Jonny worked for a time at HSBC and then began a degree in Psychology at the University of Kent at Canterbury in 2002. A PGCE at Canterbury Christ Church University followed in 2005.

In the meantime, in 2004, Jonny married Julia. Jonny and Julia had two sons, Alfie and Isaac, who are both now Borden students. Jonny adored his sons, and adored them even from before they were born: on both occasions I can remember the grin when, helpless to contain his joy, he shared the news with colleagues. Often since then were updates on their progress lovingly given.

It was really from his arrival as a teacher at Highsted Grammar in 2006, where he remained for the rest of his career, that I got to know Jonny. As a form tutor, classroom teacher, and head of both Psychology and Religious Studies, Jonny was dedicated in his commitment to supporting students and achieving the best possible outcomes for them. His students had a clear-eyed perception that he was on their side, and they responded accordingly. The number of A Level students applying for Psychology or Psychology-related degrees after Highsted has for years been testimony to Jonny’s impact on young people. It is a blessing that Jonny had been teaching long enough to be able to follow the often highly impressive careers of ex-students. Happy, too, is the fact that Jonny was enjoying working in one of his departments alongside a colleague who was a former student, and who cites him as an inspiration.

What you saw with Jonny was what you got. Jonny was a very modest man, extremely considerate of others, and entirely without airs or graces. Anyone working within his departments was assured of a highly collegial and supportive leader, genuinely responsive to any suggestions for change, and treating all as equals. If you happened to have Psychology or RS on your timetable, one fixture of the end of term would be an item of chocolate in your pigeon-hole, accompanied by a quick note of thanks in Jonny’s small neat handwriting. Jonny was the same, whether he was talking to anyone from a Year 7 student all the way up to the headteacher. I once happened on him, deep in what looked like hushed and troubled conversation with a school caretaker; I subsequently asked him whether perhaps something like the walls in his classroom had collapsed – ‘Oh, no,’ he told me, ‘we’re just really concerned about Spurs this season.’ (Jonny was a loyal Spurs fan.)

We shall miss what I like to think of as Jonny’s sheer sanity. Neurodiverse himself (a diagnosis later in life he found nothing less than empowering), Jonny was a passionate advocate of mental health awareness and SEND provision, and for a period was Highsted’s SEND co-ordinator. He was invariably courteous but could see through pose or nonsense from anyone at any level. But more than anything else, Jonny felt and enjoyed the funny side of life – perhaps that ‘liveliness’ from his Borden days always remained with him. In the classroom and amongst colleagues Jonny was famous for his puns and his ‘Dad’ jokes, and even now I can picture his deadpan delivery of some piece of verbal play – deadpan, that is, apart from a giveaway pursing of the lips, flared nostrils and insouciant skywards look. Jonny was one of Highsted’s regulars when it came to dressing up in aid of a school event. He responded to such challenges with dedication and relish, and at various times appeared as a boy band member, a giant rabbit, Austin Powers, and the Joker (the latter an uncannily effective effort).

Jonny’s final illness, a complication from a longstanding health condition, dismayed all. Loving support was offered by his family and many friends. When I saw Jonny about a fortnight before his passing he was characteristically chipper and cheerful, resolved to put up a hard fight. Sadly it was not to be. The book of condolences opened to the Highsted community reflects the warmth of feeling Jonny inspired; it has been consoling to see the steady stream of people approach it to record their fondness for and gratitude to a good man.

John Gardiner (BGS, 1987-92)