Monday, July 4th, 2022

Former pupils reunite to pay tribute to their favourite teacher who passed away at the age of 88

MANY people often remember their ‘favourite’ teacher, but it is rare that former pupils stay in touch after they leave school.

Leo Conney taught at Farnaby House in Sevenoaks and then at Foxbush in Hildenborough before finishing his teaching career at St Gregory’s in Tunbridge Wells.

Therefore, it was a measure of the respect and high regard pupils had for Sevenoaks teacher Leo Conney that more than 20 of them, who he taught more than 40 years ago during the 60s and 70s, formed part of the large crowd of friends and family who packed the Church of St Thomas of Canterbury in Sevenoaks on Wednesday (18 April) for his funeral service.

There were also many tributes sent by other pupils, who could not make it on the day, which were read out as part of his eulogy.

When he first moved to Sevenoaks in the early 60s with his wife Lucille and son Jimmy – both who sadly passed away before Leo – he taught French at the senior school of St Thomas’ which was based at Farnaby House in Kippington Road.

The infant and junior section was in South Park Sevenoaks and the two schools eventually combined at the end of the 60s on the Foxbush estate in Hildenborough. When the school closed in the 80s, Leo moved on to St Gregory’s in Tunbridge Wells where he taught for another 16 years.

Leo Conney (front row, far right) joins in a celebration at The Anchor in Sevenoaks.

After his retirement, Leo embraced the ‘café culture’ that was evolving in Sevenoaks and became a popular character with restaurant staff especially when he displayed his fluent French and Italian language skills. He also enjoyed meeting up with friends and former pupils in The Anchor, one of his favourite Sevenoaks pubs.

Leo, who died at the age of 88 in Tunbridge Wells Hospital on 20 March following complications after an operation, was born in County Durham and spent his early years in a pit village. From the age of 12 – 18 he studied first in Grange-over-Sands and later in Paris, France, where he developed a great love of books and art before entering the teaching profession.

As part of Leo’s eulogy, his family invited Tim Connolly, one of his former pupils and Sevenoaks neighbours, to say a few words. Tim read out many of the moving tributes that had been sent and added: “For a teacher, surely, there can be no more fitting a memorial than to know you are remembered, with fondness, affection and respect, by your students.

“So, no words I say today can be as powerful or moving a testimony to him as the presence of so many of his former pupils here in the church, 40 years and more since any of us was last in a class of his.

Just some of the former pupils, who turned out for Leo Conney’s funeral, pictured in The Anchor where they toasted his memory.

“Leo was a great teacher because he had a passion for his subject – for France and all things French. But, more important than this, much more important in my view, was that he really cared about the students he taught. Some of the lovely comments I have seen since he died show that we recognised that, even as hard-to-please adolescents.

“His legacy was that he was the one who inspired us to believe in ourselves and in so doing gave us the self-confidence to achieve our true potential.

“Rest in peace Leo, and your memory and laughter will live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who were fortunate enough to have spent time in your company.”

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