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News > Alumni News > John Robbie (1951-57): Across the pond and back

John Robbie (1951-57): Across the pond and back

After spending almost 40 years living and working in the USA, former Head Boy and winner of the prestigious Gibbs Cup, John Robbie crossed the pond returning to Blighty and his Cheshire roots.
12 Aug 2022
Written by David Pickup
Alumni News

John grew up in Newton, just north of Chester, and in 1951 at the age of 12 he arrived at Oswestry with his parents in their Hillman 14, and spent the next six years as a boarder in School House.


A young John Robbie arriving at Oswestry School

Known to us all as 'Curly' Robbie, John was a couple of years older than me and because of the age difference our paths only really crossed on the sporting turf of the Maes-y-Llan where I found myself as a very junior member in the same cricket and football teams. He was always kindly disposed towards me and we got on very well.


1st XI cricket team


1st XI football team

John was a very handy left-arm spin bowler and versatile right-footed footballer who also spent time between the sticks having started out playing on the outfield. Fives and swimming were other activities he became involved in and his recollections include visiting the town Baths under the tutelage of Mr Hughes who had members of his life-saving classes retrieving heavy bricks from the bottom of the pool. Curly's efforts were rewarded with a Bronze Cross and Bronze Medallion.

Memories of changing in the open air before plunging into the breathtakingly cold water of the school pool, all under the scrutiny of town girls as they looked on from the seclusion of the wooded Dingle, are still fresh in his memory; no wonder a surprisingly sympathetic Stoker would only allow us to spend minutes in this icily cold environment.


The open air pool as seen from the Dingle

Many items from John's school days followed him to North America and back across the Atlantic, and this memorabilia includes football boots and shin pads, a fives ball and gloves, a school blazer, a tuck box, and an unfinished piece of marquetry which, back in the fifties, cost the princely sum of 10 shillings and sixpence. 


 


 

In 1956 John was one of a group of seniors on the school trip to Switzerland, and his final year coincided with the visit to Oswestry School in 1957 of HRH the Duchess of Kent on the School's 550th anniversary. As Head Boy, he sat next to the Princess during lunch in The Memorial Hall and it was she who presented John with the Gibbs Cup, which is awarded for endeavour and for being an all-around good egg. Back in those days it was not always handed out, and it could be given to any boy irrespective of age.


Members of the trip to Switzerland


The Gibbs Cup

When seeking employment, having left school, John was advised by his father, who worked in the coal industry, to look at opportunities in nearby Ellesmere Port and the petrochemical sector. This turned out to be sound advice as in the seventies and eighties the coal industry and the country was thrown into turmoil by striking miners as Arthur Scargill, leader of the National Union of Mineworkers, attempted to bring down the Conservative government of the day.

So began a lifetime of work in the oil industry and in 1974 John and his wife Doreen, who had also been employed by Burma Oil, crossed the Atlantic to the Bahamas where they consolidated their jobs in the oil sector. After five years of working in loss control in the marine industry, John was offered a similar position on the mainland of North America, and much to Doreen's chagrin John opted for New Orleans rather than San Francisco. During a stay of fourteen years in the colorful birthplace of jazz, the couple enjoyed life in this vibrant city, and John was able to play a lot of golf simultaneously with entertaining business contacts. 1993 saw John moving north to Chicago, the so-called windy city, where he continued to attempt to minimise the losses of oil from spillage and pillage aboard marine vessels operating on Lake Michigan. It was not unknown for Captains and ship stokers to become involved in pilferage and there was always a distinct possibility of Mafia coercion. Chicago has long been associated with mobsters such as the infamous Al Capone, and in 1963, Mafia boss Sam Giancana, who had worked for Capone in the twenties, was implicated in the death of President JF Kennedy. 


 


JF Tilley's letter to John (1993)

Ever since leaving Oswestry John had corresponded regularly with his old schoolmasters JF Tilly and Dai 'Stoker' Lewis, and above is a copy of a reply to a letter written by John in 1993 seeking information about contemporaries. Again, several of the boys mentioned in the letter from JFT are in the photo taken outside Hotel de la Gare. 

At retirement age, John left his employment with SGS Control Services, and late in life he and Doreen set up their own business in loss-control based on a lifetime's experience in this field. Thirteen years later he and Doreen finally retired and headed south for the warmer climes of Houston, Texas.

It was around this time in 2018 that I received an email from Victoria Evans out of the blue, indicating that John was trying to locate me and my brother Bernard, and we have been in regular touch ever since.

Several months ago John and Doreen made a final crossing of the Atlantic and are now living quietly in Saughall just a few miles from where they grew up in Cheshire. Life has almost come full circle as they reconnect with old friends and acquaintances.


A smiling John (left) as he is today at a recent exhibition of David Edwards' artwork in Chester

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