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Obituary: John Le Marquand

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FORMER Senator John Le Marquand, who has died at the age of 96, was among the dominant figures in post-war Jersey politics.

He can also be described as the founding father of modern education in the Island and as the architect of systems and establishments that continue to achieve results that top British educational league tables.

Senator John, as he was widely and affectionately known, was the last survivor of the 1948 entry of States Members in the election following the restructuring of the Assembly which excluded Jurats and Rectors, introduced the role of Senator, saw the election of 11 extra Deputies and radically reformed Island democracy.

He made the most of this new era in Jersey politics, although he lived long enough to witness another new beginning — the introduction of ministerial government. As a newly elected States Member, he was one of the 11 new Deputies, and took his seat along with such prominent, even legendary, figures of post-war politics as his cousin, Cyril Le Marquand, Wilfred Krichefski, JJ Le Marquand, Ernie Gaudin and Clarence Farley — all now dead.

In 1948 he stood as a member of the Progressive Party and was therefore part of the opposition to the left-wing Jersey Democratic Movement. In spite of this, no one could have branded John Le Marquand a reactionary. From the outset, he was a reformer, bent on shaping a community where talent and hard work rather than birthright were the keys to success.

His election was the start of a long career in the service of the Island, during which he was president, successively, of the Education Committee (known as the Public Instruction Committee in 1948), Public Works, Housing, and finally Public Health.

He became a Senator in the 1960 election, topping the poll. He was re-elected in 1969, 1975 and 1981, and by the time of his retirement from the States in 1987 he had become a greatly respected Father of the House. But he will be remembered principally for his 21 years as a member of the Education Committee between 1948 and 1969, and notably for his highly effective presidency of that committee for 18 years from 1951.

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It was under his leadership that ground-breaking changes were introduced, some of them in the face of strong opposition. After the Occupation, the Island's educational system was sadly out of date, with secondary education to sixth-form level available only at Victoria College and what was then called the Ladies College. Only one new school had been built by the States between 1914 and 1952.

As a Jersey Teachers Association report of 1970 stated: 'The attitude of the States to the education of the poorer classes fell far below the standard which might reasonably have been expected. 'Little progress was made until 1952, when the first visible results of the energy and inspiration of the then Deputy John Le Marquand set Jersey on the way to carrying out the principles of the great Education Act, passed in Britain in 1944. 'He sought for every child the opportunity of education in its fullest sense, without limits imposed by social or financial status or intellectual ability.'

Against bitter opposition from many who believed that the colleges offered sufficient opportunities for children of ability, Senator Le Marquand pressed forward with a programme which included the building of Hautlieu (1952) and Rouge Bouillon (1954) as grammar schools for boys and girls. These schools were initially to have been training institutions for the sons and daughters of the 'artisan' class, but the Le Marquand touch, supported by a cadre of idealistic young teachers, ensured that they emerged as fully fledged grammar schools with the highest academic standards.

Next came a major reorganisation of St Helier Girls School, the opening of the new St Helier Boys School in 1960 and then Les Quennevais School in 1965. Having established a coherent system of secondary education, he turned his attention to primary schools, many of which offered accommodation that was sadly out of date. Existing buildings were extended and modernised, and new schools were built at St Mark's (1958), Grands Vaux and La Pouquelaye (1967), Plat Douet and Le Squez (1968) and Mont Nicolle (1970).

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These buildings will long remain as monuments to the man who took the Island's education out of a period of suspended animation, which dated back to Victorian times, and firmly into the 20th century. The institution of evening classes, their popularity and growth, are other lasting reminders of his outstanding efforts. He also took more than a passing interest in agricultural problems and served on the Agriculture Committee during his first four years.

And in the year following Liberation, two years before he entered the States, he was instrumental in founding the Jersey Young Farmers Club, an organisation which, despite the changing fortunes of agriculture, has prospered for more than six decades. The club was founded to help young people coming into farming gain technical knowledge because there was no adequate States agricultural support service at that time. But the club also afforded young people opportunities to gather and socialise, its subsequent reputation as a marriage bureau being not entirely undeserved. Many Islanders since prominent in public life gained their first experience of leadership and responsibility and public speaking as members of the Young Farmers.

As president of Public Works, Housing, and Public Health, John Le Marquand displayed the same energy for political life and a determination to fight for what he believed to be right as he had in the field of education. He remarked to the JEP in 1981 that he could only ever be in one gear and that was top, although he professed that he was delighted to have been blessed with so much energy.

Among major battles he fought in the course of his States career was one against the proposed expansion of the Airport in 1972. And one of his personal crusades was against high-rise developments, although he had to accept defeat in his determined but doomed battle to prevent the development of Le Marais's skyscraper blocks. As Housing president, though, he influenced building design in an age when most planners had at last come to accept what he had always been telling them — that high-rise developments were socially undesirable.

As Public Works president in 1976 he suffered three setbacks on major policy issues. The first was the rejection of a grandiose plan to cure the town's traffic problems by building flyovers, new roads and giant roundabouts. The second was a failure to secure agreement to plans for renting private sector offices to accommodate States departments and to lease Union House for the Treasury. The third and greatest setback — one which brought down his committee — was its defeat over initial plans to flood Queen's Valley.

Senator John always said that Jersey had ample fresh water thanks to what fell from the skies, but that it lacked enough places to store it. He resigned in the wake of defeat and exchanged committees with the then Senator John Averty, becoming president of Housing. Although no longer the political hot seat it had been in the 1950s and early 1970s, this was still a demanding presidency, and Senator Le Marquand ran it with distinction for five years. Any thoughts of high-rise developments were banished from committee thinking as he took colleagues on tours of show estates in England in search of an alternative not only to tower blocks but also to the square boxes that characterised domestic building in much of the second half of 20th century.

He demanded — and achieved — a return to more traditional styles of Jersey architecture. After relinquishing the Housing presidency after the 1981 elections, he took on Public Health from the retiring president, Senator Gwyneth Huelin. It was a presidency he had always coveted, and although he was by now past his 70th birthday he brought to this new responsibility all the vigour and enthusiasm he had devoted to any earlier political task, seeing through two major projects — the completion of the Hospital redevelopment begun by his predecessor and a complete review of the finances of Public Health. In 1983 he was the victim of a sudden illness which snatched him away from his desk and heavy committee workload, and necessitated two operations. However, he made a full recovery, and continued in the States for a further four years before retiring.

He was made an OBE in the 1986 Queen's Birthday Honours List in recognition of his many years of service to the Island and people of Jersey. In the Island he will be remembered for his unbounded energy and his determination to fight for what he believed to be right. Those who worked with him will also know that he put duty before status.

When he relinquished the presidency of Education in 1969, he withdrew to the back benches for three years, determined to lead opposition to any questionable policy which he believed might slip through the Assembly to the detriment of the ways of Island life in which he believed so strongly.

John Le Marquand, OBE, was born in 1912, a son of the late Jurat John Le Marquand. He was educated at Victoria College before entering the family business of Le Marquand Brothers, the West Park seed merchants, where he worked with his cousin, the late Senator Cyril Le Marquand.

He has been described as a popular and talented States Member who was likeable and gregarious, a conviction politician who was a passionate speaker in States debates and who did not suffer fools gladly. But he never bore grudges against his political opponents, and was a caring employer and a man who had great respect for traditional standards of morality. In many ways an old-fashioned Jersey gentleman, he also loved boating, fishing, gardening and the countryside. He married Dorothy Ward at the Town Church in 1936. She predeceased him, to his great sorrow.

They are survived by their two sons, David and Jonathan, and their families, including his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to whom the JEP extends its sympathy.

Pictured: Senator Le Marquand in 1981

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