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Larger-than-life teacher had ‘genuine concern’ for students

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Ceri Holmes, back row, centre, with staff of Purvis Primary School (Photograph supplied)

A former teacher at Purvis Primary School who once captained the Bermuda rugby team has died in England.

Friends recalled Ceri Holmes as “a larger-than-life character” who showed “genuine concern” towards his students.

He was originally from Wales. He and his wife, Michele, lived on the island from 1966 until 1972 when they returned to Britain.

Bermuda always had a special place in his heart.

Mr Holmes died this month after a two-year battle with leukaemia.

On his passing, his wife reminisced about time spent here with wonderful friends such as Morag Smith, Gareth Davis, Sir John Swan, Judith Ingham, Colin Pearman, Joan Shadbolt, the Duerden and Richardson families of Mount Hill, Derek Hurdle, Nita and Alfonso Cross and Vaughn and Amy Evans.

Ceri and Michele Holmes (Photograph supplied)

“Needless to say we made many friends among the staff we worked with and the rugby fraternity, most of whom we have kept in touch with,” said Mrs Holmes, who had also taught at the Warwick school.

“We enjoyed the teaching, the rugby games and the social life. Friendships we made have continued to this day.”

The couple met as teachers in Princes Risborough, a market town in Buckinghamshire, England. Richard Webber, a Welsh man married to Bermudian Ethelyn Duerden, was also living there at the time.

He encouraged Mr and Mrs Holmes, who were “looking to advance their teaching careers and eager for a change of scene” to apply for jobs here.

The couple took his advice "knowing that the Webbers would be joining them a year later“.

Ceri and Michele Holmes with their daughter, Rebecca (Photograph supplied)

“When in Bermuda Ceri and Mick were introduced to the Duerden and Richardson families at the crest of Mount Hill, and to Ethelyn’s cousin, John Swan.

“Many other mutual acquaintances soon followed the Holmeses growing band of Bermudian friends, not least among them, Derek Hurdle,” Mr Webber said.

He described Mr Holmes, who was 82 at the time of his death, as “a larger-than-life character”.

“He was physically impressive with a wicked sense of humour and genuine concern for people, the environment and his chosen profession as a teacher,” said Mr Webber.

“Ceri taught science and Michele was a PE teacher until she left Purvis to give birth to their daughter, Rebecca. She returned to work later and she and Ceri completed two education department contracts before returning to Norfolk. Both retained very happy memories of their time at Purvis and the relationships they enjoyed with staff and pupils.”

It was through his work at Purvis that Mr Holmes met David Wingate, the former government conservation officer, and “became interested in the natural environment of Bermuda and in conservation”.

Ceri Holmes gained an interest in Bermuda’s natural environment after he met David Wingate, the former government conservation officer (Photograph supplied)

“Living out at East Shore Road, Somerset, the Holmes family spent many hours at Harvey Gilbert’s beach swimming with turtles, angel and parrotfish,” Mr Webber said.

“Ceri also enjoyed the ocean around the island crewing with John Swan and Colin Pearman in John’s sailing boat. Ceri’s physical weight and strength was a great asset as he lay out on the windward side and hauled on the mainsail sheets.”

However, it was rugby that was Mr Holmes’s true love. According to Mr Webber, he “threw himself into Teachers Rugby Club” and became captain of that team and of the national squad.

Ceri Holmes (Photograph supplied)

“His strength and vigour marked his presence. He was particularly influential in the rugby career of a young Bermudian, Derek Hurdle.

“He matched up with Ceri playing for Teachers Rugby Club in many mud-splattered encounters at National Sports Club. The team won island championships and both Ceri and Derek represented Bermuda internationally.”

Mr Hurdle likened Mr Holmes to “the big brother” he never had.

“During my early rugby playing days he was my guardian angel. This allowed me to concentrate on learning the game. Unfortunately, he returned to the UK after two years of this protection and guidance.

“But when we were together at the Teachers Rugby Club UK reunions it was like we had never been apart. It is hard realising that we will not share another pint together. What I do treasure are the memories of the pints we have enjoyed.”

Ceri Holmes, left, and Derek Hurdle (Photograph supplied)

The Holmes family last visited the island in 2009 for the 25th anniversary of Teachers Rugby Club UK and International.

“Ceri displayed his other talent — as a sparklingly entertaining after-dinner speaker,” Mr Webber said. “His audience was cracked up over his reminiscences and comic timing.”

Mr Holmes discovered he had leukaemia in 2020 and, “after a valiant struggle succumbed to his illness” this year.

Ceri Holmes, second left, with members of Teachers Rugby Football Club (Photograph supplied)

Peter Wood, a history teacher at Saltus Grammar School from “the late 1960s into the 1970s” and the “secretary” of the Teachers Rugby Club UK, was another friend.

“Ceri was a founder of our Teachers UK group with Joe and Sandra Hodges, Colin and Anne Davey, Geoff and Anne Bentley and Michele back in 1985 in Bristol in Geoff's pub,” he said.

“Ceri had battled away with his illness for some time and showed typical Welsh fortitude throughout. He didn't have a brother but treated me as one, and what a super bloke he was — always with a chuckle and a smile.”

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Published October 26, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated October 27, 2022 at 7:56 am)

Larger-than-life teacher had ‘genuine concern’ for students

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