Vale Philip Bryson: 'Christian grace, far-sighted vision and practical wisdom'

It was in the National Missing Persons’ week in 1989 that I travelled from Trinity Grammar School, where I was Boarding Master, to the muddy imperfections of the newly established William Clarke College. I was to be interviewed by the founding Principal, (Alan) Philip Bryson, to become the college’s first Deputy Principal. The interview was a very lengthy and conversational one, lasting from the early afternoon to the winter dark. My wife, still waiting in the car, worrying about my long absence, felt that she might soon be reporting another missing person.

In what now seems beyond imagining, in mid-1989, William Clarke College consisted of less than a handful of buildings set down on an isolated site behind unfashionable Kellyville in north-west Sydney. It took far-sighted vision and boundless practical wisdom to imagine the school and the residential precinct that was to unfold in the coming years. There is no better description of Philip Bryson – Christian grace with far-sighted and practical wisdom in abundance.

Philip Bryson was a keen scientist who had a natural instinct for working with young people.

Several Anglican schools in Sydney owe much to this boundless practical wisdom of Philip Bryson, whose passing we greatly mourn. His own education was shaped by the monumental figure of James Wilson Hogg at Trinity Grammar School, where Philip’s father and revered Anglican lay leader, Dr Alan Bryson, had served on the school council for many years. Hogg was a doyen amongst mid-20th century Australian headmasters, and his elegant mind profoundly influenced generations of Trinity boys.

Philip Bryson speaks to students in 2000

Philip Bryson speaks to students in 2000 William Clarke College

Philip Bryson was a keen scientist who had a natural instinct for working with young people. Following his university training, he taught at Drummoyne Boys’ High School before a highly successful career at The King’s School, Parramatta, under the august Headmastership of the Rev. Canon Stan Kurrle. A passionate teacher of science and a dedicated Housemaster, Philip loved the best traditions of independent education.

His appointment as the foundation Headmaster of The William Branwhite Clarke College was delayed from 1987 until 1988, the reason for which is a story for another place. Philip Bryson served at William Clarke College from 1987 until 2002, before I invited him to join me at St Andrew’s Cathedral School, where from 1995 I was the 13th Head. His brief was to assist in the search for Christian educators to join our staff, a work he continued well after I left the school in 2009. Many an educator, including myself, owe their career progression to the practical wisdom and support of Philip Bryson.

Philip Bryson had the astonishing knack of identifying excellent Christian educators.

As a Foundation Headmaster, Philip Bryson was a polymath. His knowledge of every subterranean system of college infrastructure was astounding. Thrifty and industrious, after hours we would walk the perennial building sites across the years, chatting about school culture and collecting loose nails and screws to reuse in later projects. He loved music and drama in the college and countless hours were invested to support the theatrical technicalities in sound and lighting. The quality of our shows belied the young age of the college, helped greatly by the generosity of Castle Hill High School, Tara and The King’s School who hosted our productions.

Philip and Janet Bryson on their wedding day

Philip and Janet Bryson on their wedding day William Clarke College

Philip Bryson had the astonishing knack of identifying excellent Christian educators whose combined energies developed the character of William Clarke College. Although unconventional in his interviewing methods (including power naps in the middle of interviews), he found truly gifted educators to join the college and, later, join St Andrew’s Cathedral School. Not one to set and forget, those whom he recruited were supported all their days. He genuinely cared for those he recruited.

An early photo of Philip Bryson with his family William Clarke College

Supported by his truly gifted and dedicated late wife, Janet Bryson, and his magnificent family of Karen, Fiona and Stuart, Philip’s career in Anglican education in the Diocese of Sydney was a blessing to so many schools who might not be aware that their staff and students were formed under his caring hand. Barker College is one such school and as one who had the delight of walking the muddy or dusty fields of William Clarke College with not a single residential dwelling in sight, I am one such person. Christian grace and practical wisdom – a pretty potent legacy for the heart of Christian education.

Phillip Heath AM is Head of Barker College, Hornsby, Sydney.