The remarkable life of Royston’s Ken Charles – headteacher, coach and caring community man
- Credit: Archant
The wife of the founding headteacher of Greneway Middle School, who was also an acclaimed national basketball coach and MBE recipient, has told the Crow of their “fantastic life together” after his death aged 87.
Ken Charles and his wife Di met in the late 1960s and moved to the Royston area soon after, where he set up Greneway as the first middle school in the south of England.
He was born in a mining village in South Wales in 1932, and moved to Harrow. After completing national service and college, Ken started teaching at Blackwell School in Harrow, where he stayed for 11 years. He was primary trained but taught history to A-level and got involved in teaching PE. There was a tradition of basketball in the school – which would become a key part of Ken’s life.
Di said: “The previous PE teacher there had been keen on basketball, and rather than let it die he took it over as a club first of all and it went from there. I am still getting messages from his players from the 1950s. It is amazing.”
Ken coached at Blackwell and he went on to coach the England U19s team and was one of the coaches of England’s national basketball team.
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He became head of lower school at Christopher Wren School in London and four years later, he was given the opportunity to set up Greneway which opened in September 1969 – he was headteacher there until 1995 and took early retirement to work on coaching international and national mini basketball. Di taught at Meridian and they married in October 1970.
Ken was also president of English Basketball Association for many years, and until he died he was president emeritus of Basketball England.
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He formed Mini Basketball England for children in 1970 and became general secretary of the world mini-basketball movement. He also founded Corvus Cornix Basketball Club with Di – named, of course, after the symbol of Royston. There he coached the women’s team, which became second best in the country and reached two finals at Wembley.
Di said: “It was a busy time. When he coached the women’s team we would finish our school teaching and leave at about 6pm, go to Cambridge pick up some of the players, then we had to drive to Luton to train and then stop for fish and chips and then drive back over to Cambridge and get back home here at 1am – and then he would do school work.
“What he found most rewarding about it all was meeting people across the world.”
Ken was president of Royston Rotary Club in 1983 to 84 and was district governor for Rotary International in the East of England in 1997-98. He was also chairman of Royston and District Sports Council, chairman of Sports North Herts, he was an instigator of the town kite festival and was involved with Youth Speaks and Youth Makes Music.
In 1986, Ken was awarded an MBE by The Queen for services to sport and education – something Di said made them both “very proud”.
He was also short-listed for 2016 BBC Get Inspired Unsung Hero, and he received lifetime achievement awards from Corvus Cornix Basketball Club in 2014 and Herts Sports Partnership and Herts Basketball in 2018.
“He touched so many lives,” Di said.”He will be missed. I know he will.”
Ken was dad to two daughters, Lorraine and Yvonne, and had two grandchildren.
He and Di, 82, lived in Whaddon and are well-known in town.
She said: “Royston has become our home. When we first came to the area it was a small market town, everyone knew us. People would say hello in the street and Ken’s father, who was staying with us at the time, said it was ‘like being royalty’”
Di said: “Ken was a very caring man – he cared for people, particularly younger people. He did everything for everybody.” To relax, Di said her husband liked gardening and photography. Most of the time he was involved in administration, and he loved his Siamese cats. Both Ken and Di were members of St John the Baptist Church in Royston, and they had a blessing to commemorate their 35th wedding anniversary there. October would haven been their 50th wedding anniversary.
“One of my last conversations with him as me saying ‘you can’t go yet, the church is not ready!’ and he laughed. He was a laid-back guy and we had a fantastic life together.”
Ken passed away on Thursday last week after having dementia. There’s a private funeral on August 5 and Di hopes when the lockdown is over and the church is restored, following the 2018 fire, they will have a memorial service of thanksgiving to honour his life.
Tributes to Ken have been paid by staff who worked with him at Greneway School, now part of King James Academy Royston.
Gordon Farquhar, headteacher of King James Academy Royston and Laura Rawlings – former Greneway headteacher from 2012 to 2018 – said: “While Greneway school is now part of the King James Academy Royston, it is important to recognise it’s history. “Greneway School’s founding headteacher was such a huge influence on the school and Royston community. His highly regarded leadership of Hertfordshire’s first Middle School left a significant legacy which will not be forgotten.”
Former head of PE at Greneway, Terry Graves, said: “In an age where the term ‘legendary’ is used all too easily, here we have a man who truly deserved the tag!
“Over 60 years of teaching, coaching, leading, managing, co-ordinating, driving and inspiring.
“Ken’s energy and enthusiasm were legendary and inspirational to all who have had the honour of working with him. He was the real deal!
“Passion, commitment, dedication, vision and professionalism summed up Ken’s approach and infectious attitude in all that he did.
“He understood the real value of education, and of all sport, to develop and nurture all-round skills in all people. His approach always put the learner at the centre of the whole process. He cared and understood learning and achievement.
“He loved Greneway School and he loved Royston.”