The Life of Alex Dick
Company Director, Headmaster & Priest...
Fairfield’s history goes back to the late 19th century, but the trust as it exists today is primarily the result of the vision of Alex Dick and his wife Valerie. Alex died in 2008, and Valerie predeceased him in 1993, but he remains a key source of inspiration. When deliberating about a possible course of action, the Fairfield trustees often find themselves asking, “What would Alex do?”
Alex was born on 29 February 1920 into a family of scientific entrepreneurs. His grandfather, George Alexander Dick, was a distinguished metallurgist, and had founded the Delta Metal Company in 1888. His father, Alec, became director and then chairman of the same company. Alex himself benefited from a secure upbringing, marred by the early death of his mother, Eileen, when he was only nine. Partly because of a shared sense of loss, father and son were particularly close.
Slight of stature, he was the most unassuming of men: easy to underestimate at first sight, and unforgettable on closer acquaintance. He was a man who, by virtue of his background and upbringing, had been given many talents, both in terms of financial wealth and natural ability. To the end, Alex used all his gifts generously and faithfully.
Fairfield is one of the most important parts of his legacy.
Alex began work at Delta in the summer vacation of 1939, after his first and only year at the University of Cambridge. By that time, a large part of the company’s work was producing metals for armaments. When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, he found himself working in a ‘reserved occupation’. The Delta laboratory was completely destroyed during the London blitz. Alex was responsible for rebuilding it, and for leading the company as technical director.
After the war, he resumed his university studies at evening classes. At weekends, he and his father led the Pathfinders Sunday school at St John’s, Blackheath. The school had as many as 150-200 children at a time, split into morning and afternoon sessions. Among many others, Gavin Reid — who served as Bishop of Maidstone from 1992 to 2000 — remembers it as a formative influence.
In 1956, both father and son resigned from the Delta board. After a year’s training, Alex began his second career, becoming headmaster of the Alliance Secondary School in Dodoma in Tanganyika, later Tanzania.
Although his father was now approaching 70, the two decided to travel to Africa together. “Old Mr Dick” became surrogate grandfather both to local children and to the sons and daughters of other missionaries, who were far from their own grandparents. When he died in 1963, Alex returned to England to wind up his father’s affairs, and to marry Valerie Ann Barton, a church worker and former neighbour.
As the school’s name suggested, Alliance was a joint project — of the Anglican and Lutheran churches. Dick led the school at a particularly significant time in the history of Tanzania, in the years before and after independence. When he arrived, there were 110 pupils in forms one and two. When he left in 1967, there were 672 pupils preparing for Higher School Certificate.
Dick invested part of his personal wealth in upgrading the school’s facilities, making it one of the best-equipped institutions in the region. Its alumni include doctors, diplomats, cabinet ministers, and three bishops.
He had two further teaching posts: a year as a maths teacher at a school in Waterlooville, Hampshire; and two years as headmaster of Edo National College, Iguobazuwa, in Nigeria, from 1969 to 1971. He regarded the latter as a tougher assignment than Dodoma: the Nigerian civil war was still raging; there were minor air raids; and at times there were serious food shortages.
After his return to England, he decided to offer for the Church of England ministry and, after training at Salisbury and Wells Theological College, was ordained deacon at Exeter Cathedral in 1974, and priest the following year. He served his first curacy in Totnes, before moving in 1977 to the large Estover housing estate on the edge of Plymouth, to set up an ecumenical project in association with Methodist, Baptist, and Roman Catholic colleagues.
Alex and Valerie’s work in Estover was, in the full sense, a missionary project. They were setting up a church where none had existed before. Alex’s final official position was as Vicar of Lifton and neighbouring parishes near the western edge of Dartmoor.
Alex officially retired in 1986, but continued an active unpaid ministry, first in London, and then in Torquay. His major project was the administration of the Fairfield Trust. At the same time he served as an honorary curate in Cockington. A major part of his ministry was informal: he remained in regular contact with friends and the children of friends from every stage of his life. No doubt partly because of the early loss of his mother and later, in 1993, of his wife Valerie, he was particularly sensitive to the needs of the bereaved. At the same time, although he had no children, he retained a lifelong concern for younger people. One of his projects in his final years was to set up a club bringing together elderly people and teenagers.
Alex brought the same distinctive qualities to each of his three careers: compassion, attention to detail, and a Christian faith that was expressed in action as much as words.