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Champion of learning John May passes away

A former university lecturer and director at Braywick Heath Nurseries whose love for other people’s learning saw him travel the world has passed away after a short illness.

John May died aged 80 after a battle with pneumonia in Royal Berkshire Hospital on Wednesday, October 18.

He lived with second wife Tandi in Boyne Hill.

The 66-year-old said: “He was stubborn but determined. He absolutely believed in people. He was on a mission to deliver education for those pupils considered less able.”

John was the oldest of three siblings.

As a science graduate he considered a job in agriculture before going into teaching.

As his career progressed he helped develop an approach to teaching that led to the introduction of the Certificate of Secondary Education (CSE).

Before that most pupils left secondary education without any qualifications – and many commonwealth countries still teach variations of the CSE.

“It was one of the high points of his career,” added Tandi.

John leaves behind two sons, Andrew, 50, and Ian, 46, from his first marriage, and two grandsons, Toby, 20, and Charlie, 17.

Ian said: “He was always there for the underdog, it was his raison d’etre, he loved other people learning.

“I knew I could always pick his brain about something.”

John also had a daughter, Kathryn, who was born with Down’s syndrome but sadly died aged 19 in 1987.

Tandi added: “He often said he felt he owed much of his insight and basic beliefs to her.”

Later, at King’s College London, his passion for science education would see him travel much of the world.

His trips included a visit to China in 1981, where he became one of the first academics to visit the country after the Cultural Revolution.

John had beaten cancer twice, although the second time in 2003 left him with a weak heart that caused him to step back from much of his work.

But he found new ways to challenge himself and spent more time with Tandi, exploring on their ‘wheelchair rambles’.

One memorable trip to Cape Town, South Africa, in 2011 saw them reach the 3,558ft top of Table Mountain.

In 2008 he became a director at Braywick Heath Nurseries and later a trustee of Braywick Charitable Trust, where his fondness for horticulture and education combined.

Chairman of the trust, Robin Pemberton said: “His passion and experience for skills training benefited so many of our team.

“I valued his integrity, wisdom and calm.

“We have lost an important friend and a good man.”

For details of the funeral next month contact Andrew May at


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