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Rex Walford

Rex WalfordRex Walford (1934-2011)


A Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Achievements of Rex Walford was held on Wednesday, 16th February at 3pm at Ely Cathedral.

Rex Walford, who died tragically in the recent boating accident on the Thames, was a man who took enjoyment of life seriously; whether teaching or learning, whether in church or on the stage, whether at Fenners or presenting workshops about musical theatre, he displayed a sheer passion for living which was infectious and exhausting for those around him.

Rex was University Lecturer in Geography and Education at Cambridge from 1973 until 1999, and served as Head of the then University Department of Education in the early 1990s. He became a Fellow of Wolfson College in 1988 and an Emeritus Fellow in 1999. Rex ran the postgraduate (PGCE) teacher-education course for geographers for 25 years, providing the country with a constant stream of young enthusiastic geography teachers, and the University with a regular supply of wicket-keepers, opening batsmen and Footlights performers. Indeed, it was often remarked that the PGCE Geography timetable was constructed with an eye on the Wisden fixture list and the demands of play rehearsals!

Rex has been a leading international name in geographical education over the last three decades, contributing to the transformation of the teaching of geography in secondary schools throughout the United Kingdom. Many of his former students became teacher educators themselves, and the high quality of geography teaching in many secondary schools today owes much to Rex. He was a very effective and very enthusiastic advocate of Geography and a key bridge between Geography in universities and in schools, working with a missionary zeal to convince people that Geography is not only important but also fun. An early advocate of the use of games and simulations in Geography, he used his love of drama, music and the arts to inspire and motivate teachers and taught alike. Rex was a man of seemingly endless energy and extraordinary humanity. His contributions to the world of Geography, through Geographical Association Committees, the Charney Manor conferences, the GA Worldwise Quiz, his work as President of the Geographical Association (1983 – 1984), and his enlightened role on the National Curriculum Geography Committee, were boundless and immense.

At Cambridge, Rex started the transformation of the teacher education course by the introduction of ‘Situation and Themes’, a course set in the fictional Coldstream secondary school, which introduced students to education theory and practice through role play, analysis of classroom situations presented on video and problem solving of real school situations. Such a practice-based approach, based on active participation and simulation, was innovative and revolutionary at the time, a landmark innovation in teaching education students which alerted successive cohorts of students to the relevance and application of educational theory. Whether in the seminar room or a primary classroom, Rex was a talented and innovative teacher, inspirational and energetic, with the most extraordinary use of humour to engage, stimulate and challenge. That he was beloved by his students is beyond doubt, but he also offered much kindness and generosity to his colleagues, as well as his ideas and resources.

Retirement to Rex was fictional. A PhD linked his interests in religion and space and place, focused on the role of the Christian churches in suburban London in relation to the poor, and was only started in retirement when he had the time really to enjoy it. Alongside his academic career, Rex had a great love of the theatre, and was very actively involved, along with his wife Wendy, in amateur drama groups, largely as a writer, producer and musical director, producing performances of a high standard. A Dorothy L. Sayer fan, Rex wrote a ‘one women’ play about her life which he took to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1985 with the Head of Department’s secretary, Miriam Rundle, as Dorothy. He also produced a theatre performance of her radio play ‘The Man Born to be King’ as well as a dramatisation of ‘Murder must Advertise’. Since retirement, Rex expanded his life-time interest in theatre as a co-founder of Cameo Theatre Company, and at his death was a Council member of the Guild of Drama Adjudicators and Chair of the Cambridge Drama Festival. He regularly worked with soprano Gabrielle Bell in presenting programmes and workshops about musical theatre, and frequently led courses for the University Institute of Continuing Education on music, theatre and film. In all of these activities, and in his steadfast Christian faith, Wendy stood beside him and with him, encouraging, supporting, challenging, in a wonderfully reciprocal relationship.

Rex’s strong Christian faith pervaded all his work, and sustained his belief that all children should be offered the opportunity to succeed, whatever their background and circumstances. A truly brilliant teacher, Rex will be missed by so many colleagues, friends and teachers, across the world, for his intellect and knowledge, his understanding of geographical and educational issues, his dynamism and his warmth.

Mike Younger / Joan Whitehead

January 2011

A Remembrance Party for Rex Walford

The Faculty of Education and Wolfson College are giving a remembrance party for Rex at which Wendy Walford will be presented with the book of remembrances put together by the Faculty from the many contribution that were sent to us about Rex.

The event will be on Thursday 31st March 6-8pm in the Lee Hall, Wolfson College. As we shall be serving refreshments we need to know the likely numbers of people who will be attending.

If you would like to come could you please let Judy Stevens know on

Thank you

Mike Younger
Joan Whitehead