YESTERDAY we received the news that another dearly loved member of our community has passed away; John Isaacs served as the School Chaplain from 1985 until 1994. John had originally moved to Ely in the 1960s to work with the renowned lute-maker Ian Harwood. His passion for music led him to his first position at King’s Ely, teaching flute, clarinet and recorder. John was a fine craftsman as well as an accomplished musician, making Renaissance instruments and playing with the Consort of Viols in Cambridge.
Later, John trained as a minister and was ordained priest in St. Mary’s Church. His work there led him into greater contact with the school and he hosted King’s Ely pupils for services over the years. Taking over from John Powell as school chaplain in 1985 was a natural step, and his enthusiasm for his work reinvigorated the spiritual life of King’s Ely. He and his wife Philly-Jane opened the doors of their home on Wednesday nights to encourage students to share their faith and concerns, growing together in fellowship. Former colleague and friend Adella Charlton remembers these evenings with great affection. ‘Everyone would be crammed in together and out in the hall was a huge heap of shoes’. John delighted children at Acremont House with his stories and flute playing, at Junior School his assemblies were equally popular and were nicknamed ‘Sing-along with Isaacs’.
Reporting on his first year at the school in ‘The Elean’ John wrote that his report would be different from all the others, there were no team names or houses to mention, no goals to tally or critical reviews of worship – ‘We do not have a clear-cut measure of spiritual success. The chaplaincy can exist only because the School considers it important that pupils should have every opportunity of knowing the power and love of God in their lives’. John may not have felt that he could measure his success, but we know that the hundreds of pupils who took part in services led by him, prepared for confirmation under his guidance or sang along with him at assemblies will feel differently; many of them measuring the beginning of their spiritual life from a meeting with John.
John moved on to the parish of Denver in 1985 and served there for 9 years. He was also a chaplain at Gonville and Caius College. Latterly he retired to Ely and we enjoyed the company of John and Philly-Jane at almost every concert, dramatic event and musical occasion the school presented.
As a chaplain John believed his parish was the whole of our school community: children, staff, parents and grandparents. His loss will be felt deeply and by many. We send our thoughts and prayers to his wife Philly-Jane and to their daughter Rebecca, as we remember John’s life as a musician, lute-maker, dedicated priest and charismatic, warm and generous man.