The brilliant life of ‘sir’ Ralph Mayo

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A Lancaster Bomber navigator, teacher, gym club founder and author who was known to many simply as ‘sir’ has passed away.

Ralph Mayo, who founded the Aylesbury Gymnastics Club, and was teaching toddlers at Lynx Gym until the age of 91 was remembered by friends and family at his funeral last Wednesday.

Born in Barry in Wales, Mr Mayo was the youngest of four children.

From a young age he dreamed of being a teacher and won a coveted place at grammar school. But his signalman father could not afford for his son to stay in education, and age 14 he left school to go to work.

Aged around 17, and after starting work on the railways in Wales, Mr Mayo was transferred to Kings Cross station in London where he did office work.

When the war broke out he volunteered in the Royal Air Force, and was stationed in Saskatchewan in Canada for his training.

When he returned to England he was assigned to be a navigator on Lancaster Bombers, and flew 44 perilous missions before the war ended.

His daughter Penni Thorne, who also lives in Aylesbury, said: “At the time they didn’t really have time to be frightened. The statistics on bomber command are frightening, to do that many tours is unusual.”

After the war Britain had a shortage of teachers, and this was Mr Mayo’s big opportunity to follow his dream. He undertook teacher training in London and Leeds and qualified as a teacher in PE and mathematics in 1951.

He also married Gretta, after meeting at a dance when her mother ‘took her there and held the door closed behind her’ because she thought her daughter was not getting out enough.

After Mr Mayo qualified he taught in Barnet North London and Torrington in North Devon before the family settled in Aylesbury.

Mr Mayo’s first job was at the Queen’s Park School and later the Quarendon School where he worked from its opening in 1957 until 1982 when he took early retirement he was known affectionately by pupils as ‘sir’.

During this time the progressive teacher retrained in computers, and in the 1970s lobbied the William Harding Trust to pay for two ‘portable PCs’ for Quarendon, an initiative which the trust rolled out across all Aylesbury schools afterwards.

But gymnastics was his big love, and Mr Mayo founded the gymnastics club at the school, which expanded to Broughton and Bedgrove.

Penni, a former Mayor of Aylesbury, added: “He always had a gym club and we all used to do gym displays. Me as a three-and-a-half year old used to be at the very top of the pyramid.”

She added: “We used to go out and do displays all around the area, I can remember one in the hospital car park at Amersham.

“To me he’s my dad, but it’s been lovely to hear what other people are saying about him, even in hospital at the end one of the nurses was an ex gym club girl.

“One of the girls said that in school there were two go-to teachers and he was one of them. He would be firm but he would be fair.

“He wasn’t the kind to be hard handed like some teachers could be. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say a bad word about him.

“He was the sort of teacher that would be making sure he was getting the best out of every child in the class.”

After retirement Mr Mayo continued his gymnastics activities, and also penned two books.

His first work was entitled In Search of Robert Fowler R.I Victorian Artist.

The book was a historical labour of love, documenting the life and works of Gretta’s aunt’s father-in-law, who was a respected watercolour painter.

And after that, he took on an even more personal project, writing the history of the Aylesbury Gymnastics Club.

Mr Mayo leaves behind his daughter Penni, 65, son Timothy, 61 and grandchildren Jo Anne, 46, Nathalie, 30 and Toby, 25.