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He wore his learning lightly

June 11, 2014

Dr Megahey with the Prince of Wales.

Dr Megahey with the Prince of Wales.

THE REV Dr Alan Megahey wore his learning lightly, but he was one of that long tradition of scholar priests who have done so much to make the Church of England the remarkable and resilient institution which, at its best, it still is. He was an Ulsterman and had a staunch Protestant childhood but, though he remained proud of Northern Ireland, it was in England and in Zimbabwe that he made his mark as schoolmaster and priest.

Alan Megahey was born in Belfast in 1944, and educated at the Royal School in Dungannon, where he acquired his love of history and dislike of sectarianism, feelings that were re-enforced when he read history at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He returned to Belfast, as a research student at Queen’s, where he took his PhD and began those studies which saw fulfilment in his widely acclaimed The Irish Protestant Churches in the 20th Century, which was published in 2000.

He then began a long, successful and influential career as a schoolmaster in 1967, when he joined the staff of Wrekin College in Shropshire as a history master. In 1970, having been ordained deacon in 1969, he became assistant chaplain and in that year he married Elizabeth Jeffrey, daughter of the vice-principal of Methodist College Belfast. In 1972 he moved to Cranleigh as head of history and in 1974 became a housemaster. Though the house was not the tidiest in the school, it was probably the happiest. He remained at Cranleigh, apart from a sabbatical term as schoolmaster fellow at Magdalene College, Cambridge, until 1983, when he became rector (headmaster) of Peterhouse, the largest of Zimbabwe’s independent boys’ schools. He made an immediate and immense impression there, improving academic standards, widening opportunities, advancing racial integration in a way which won the admiration of white farmers and, in the days before land seizures, of Robert Mugabe. Indeed, when the Megaheys’ 13-year-old son was killed in an accident, the president was one of the first to express condolences. Megahey’s energetic leadership made Peterhouse one of the most respected schools in southern Africa, and he was for some years chairman of the Conference of Headmasters of Zimbabwe. The Megaheys returned to England in 1993, and he served as chaplain of Uppingham until 2000, when he was instituted as rector of Beckingham, Brant Broughton with Stragglethorpe, Leadenham, and Welbourn, in Lincolnshire. He successfully fought against a move to have All Saints, Beckingham, made redundant by launching the Saints Alive appeal, which was a regional runner-up on the BBC’s Restoration programme.

He also oversaw the restoration of the Pugin ceiling at Leadenham. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth and by his daughter Ann, a housemistress at Oundle.

The Rev Dr Alan Megahey, schoolmaster and priest, was born on July 22, 1944. He died of cancer on August 19, 2011, aged 67.

Published in The Times on October 20, 2011, on page 64.

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