A Tribute to Ray Rutherford-Smith

Ray was a member of staff when I started at Kearsney in 1953 and was still there when I left at the end of 1958. Throughout that time he was an assistant housemaster in Gillingham which was my house. I do not know when he joined the staff or left, but I believe his time did not extend far beyond my time at the college. But I do remember meeting his then new wife, Elizabeth, on a visit to the Hill a few years after leaving.

Ray’s degree subject was psychology – said to be the reason for his nickname “Psycho”! He trained as a teacher of English but I remember him best as our form master in Form 1. As form teachers do at that level, he took us for many subjects and tackled all of them with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm. I often recall the time I was struggling to get a radio I had built, to receive shortwave stations. He had little knowledge of, or interest in, the subject but promised to find the answer. And true to his word, in the following week he called me aside at break and told me how to experiment to find the answer with some clues he had got from a friend. Eventually I got there, and electronics has been my consuming interest ever since, largely thanks to his support at that early stage.

Although wireless, as we called it in those days, was not his thing, he wasn’t scared of getting his hands dirty when it came to car engines. Many Gillinghamites will remember seeing his van, bonnet up on the back lawn of the house with parts scattered all around. And he knew what he was doing, as testified by his travelling in it one holiday with a friend of his to Kilimanjaro, reaching a point several thousand feet up and then finishing the climb on foot, with photos to prove it.

The two great lessons he unwittingly taught me by his example in that first formative year of mine at Kearsney, were enthusiasm and that even for a non sporty nerd like me, outdoor activity not involving balls or fields, could be fruitful and enjoyable.

I maintained contact with him since leaving Kearsney. Our first meeting after school was in the July holiday after I left the college and was with my family on my father’s long leave in London. Ray was over visiting friends of his in Ireland and came over to London a number of times during which we each showed the other places of interest we had found. We had many a good laugh together and a good few shared meals and beers.

I last saw him in 2018 when I went to Scotland for the wedding of Jim Panton, another ’58er. I broke my return journey on the train at Linlithgow, just north of Edinburgh, where Ray had a delightful lochside retirement apartment. He was very sharp then – at 93 – and only his failing sight seemed to trouble him. He insisted on taking me out to lunch at the cafe over the road and alarmed me by striding out to cross the road unable really to see with any clarity what the traffic was doing. They seemed almost to know him!

A fact many Old Boys who knew him may not know is that the old stone house which was the main dormitory block of what was then called Junior House, had been the Rutherford Smiths’ home – I believe possibly a second or country home – before the land on which it and others stood, was bought for the establishment of what we know as Kearsney when it moved to Bothas Hill.

I shall miss a great friend.


Written by Roger Simpson (Gillingham, 1958)