Michael Hoddell obituary: tribute to a Sussex headmaster, popular politician and ‘a dad in a million’

Michael Hoddell, who has died aged 94, was Brighton’s longest serving headmaster and a well known Mid Sussex politician, as well as a staunch supporter of local causes.

Wednesday, 17th November 2021, 10:20 am

Affectionately known at school as ‘The Boss’, in retirement he became a long serving Churchwarden at St John’s church in Burgess Hill.

A reputation for firmness and being a stickler for correct protocol belied his warm nature and keen sense of humour.

Michael Hoddell was born in 1927 in the North Star pub in Hastings, where his father Alfred was the publican.

Michael Hoddell was Brighton’s longest serving headmaster and a long serving churchwarden at St John’s Church in Burgess Hill.

Sadly, he lost his father when he was only three, and then moved with his mother to St Albans where he attended grammar school.

He was a keen rugby player and then national service took him to Somerset and a stint as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm.

Michael’s educational career began when he took a job teaching English and Drama in the East End in 1950, taking advantage of the Government’s post-war sponsored route into the profession.

It was while teaching evening classes to make some extra money that he met Jean, a student teacher.

In 1958 they married and travelled to take up teaching jobs in Istanbul.

After three happy years, the couple returned to the UK where Michael took a job as head of English, and then deputy head, at Haverstock school in Camden, where he was able to fully indulge his passion for acting and directing.

In 1969 he was appointed headmaster at Whitehawk school in Brighton, signalling a return to the Sussex of his birth with his then young family.

Subsequently a move to the top job at Dorothy Stringer School, led to 23 years of ‘the best job in the world’.

Having settled in Burgess Hill, Michael discovered a love for local politics, successfully standing for election for the town and then district council, where he rose to vice chairman.

He ended a career spanning 14 years by serving as chairman of libraries on West Sussex County Council.

Interested first and foremost in improving the civic lives of his constituents, he was a firm believer that local politics were correctly named, and that the ‘local’ should always come before the ‘politics’.

Alongside his career in teaching and local politics, Michael had a keen interest in the local community in which he lived.

He was president of the local theatre club, vice chairman of the local health authority, a member of the East Sussex Prince’s Trust and governor of local primary and secondary schools in Burgess Hill, the Sixth Form College in Haywards Heath and also of Brighton College of Technology.

He was also a founding member, and later chairman, of the Jack and Jil Windmills Preservation Society.

After more than 41 years in teaching Michael retired in 1992.

In his ‘retirement’ he continued to play a very active role in his local community, where his involvement in the church gave him both spiritual comfort and the chance to continue with his life of service.

A firm believer in the strength of the family, and the transformative power of education, Michael remained committed to improving people’s lives.

His children will always remember his ability to build anything from a go-cart to a viking sword, the menagerie of pets for which he built homes, and the stunning and productive garden he created.

He really was a dad in a million.

His beloved wife Jean predeceased him in 2011 and he is survived by his four children and five grandchildren.