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Published: March 23rd 2021
Yesterday – March 22nd
2021 – there was a brouhaha on the Old Swinford Hospital Alumni website concerning the alleged death of former Head of Maths, Len Krukowski. He was initially reported dead, but this turned out to be false. It seems he has been admitted to a nursing home and is quite frail – not surprising for a man of 98. Chris Crookes has posted two photos of him from 2018, standing outside Barn Block, where he used to teach.
Len was the Head of Maths at OSH in 1975, when I joined the school, and still there in 1985, when I left for Cairo. He had been appointed in 1955, when I was aged 3. He was one of many teachers who spent all, or a greater part, of their teaching career at OSH.
After retiring in 1990, aged 67, Len remained closely involved with the school. According to my friend David Hartley, he was still doing Cadets until 2003 (when he was 80!), supply teaching until 2005 and giving private 'A' level maths lessons until 2015. Len continued attending Founder's Day, Carol Services, Old Foleyans' Dinners, prize-giving events and other school functions. Until last week, he
would often be spotted shopping and walking in Stourbridge as well as attending Mass at his Catholic Church.
I never knew Len well because he was much older than me and a rather august, slightly aloof figure. He is Polish and speaks English with a strong Polish accent. I am not sure when Len left his native Poland and came to England but, according to Simon Kennedy on the Alumni website, it was during World War 11.
He was married to a formidable Polish woman, who died some years ago. I met her once when, along with Lance Naylor, I was invited to dinner at Len’s house on Heath Lane, a stone’s throw from the school. It was a rather stiff, formal occasion. As far as I know, they did not have children.
Len presided over a Maths Department of three teachers – the others being Ben Kirton and Denis Haggett. (Strangely, the English Department comprised only two: Bob Wood and myself.) Len taught the ‘A’ level class. Ben and Denis were golfing chums who had little to do with Len and sat together in the staff room opposite the door. Len sat far away from them next
to Jim Prince, the Head of Geography. Like Jim, he was a pillar of the establishment. Unlike myself and the younger teachers, he always attended morning assembly (while we preferred to stay chatting in the staff room) and always wore a gown. I did not own a gown and thought that wearing a gown to lessons was anachronistic. Moreover, ownership of a gown indicated a university degree, which not every OSH teacher had. I believed that wearing a gown was, therefore, divisive – separating the staff into two camps. Much better that we teachers showed academic solidarity by wearing jackets only!
Len was a disciplinarian, a martinet, feared and secretly mocked by the boys, who called him ‘Kruke’ or 'Krukie'. As a young rookie teacher, I was a poor disciplinarian and taught one of my English lessons in Len’s Maths room in Barn Block. I have an indelible memory of Len standing outside, just before the end of my lesson, peering through the window to see if the boys were behaving. On one occasion, Len entered the room and pointed to a horse that a boy had drawn in pencil on the wall during my lesson. I was embarrassed,
and the boy was given a roasting. Len must have had a low opinion of me.
The boys seem to have had a lot of respect for him.
Kevin Williams, on the Alumni website, writes: “He could hear me whispering at the back of the Barn Block classroom in maths and hit me with a flying board rubber without even turning round from the blackboard! He was a great teacher too!
” Those were the days when a teacher could throw board rubbers at students with impunity!
Jonathan Datta writes: “One of the best teachers I had; strict and demanding, but fair and with a great sense of humour, which he occasionally revealed
And Andrew Doughty says: “He caught me and Si Francis smoking on cadet camp. Francis pulled a packet of fags out of his pocket and offered him one. ‘Bensons and Hedges, my favourite,’ he said and took one and buggered off! I thought we were for it.
Len and Jim Prince and one or two others formed a team to compete in the OSH Staff General Knowledge Quiz that I organized in 1976 or ’77. Len’s team
won, and I remember Len bringing the house down with one answer. My question was: ‘What, in horse-racing parlance, is a Yankee?
’ Well, this was manna from heaven for Len, who often had a flutter on the horses. His precise mathematical description of a Yankee bet, delivered in a strident Polish voice, was perfectly correct and unintentionally hilarious.
Len wanted to revisit his native Poland, which was under Soviet rule until 1989. He had family there, but the Soviet authorities made the conditions of his proposed visit so punitive that Len decided not to go.
What else do I remember about Len? Not much, really. His initials are ZLK (I don’t know what the Z stands for). He had the same old car for many years.
Despite our great differences, I always had a grudging respect for Len. He was never sick. He did his job with a rare intensity. I hope he is not upset by the premature announcement of his death; perhaps he will laugh off. His move to a nursing home, at the age of 98, sounds as if it may be permanent, so I wish him a pain-free and comfortable stay there. He is the last remaining symbol of Old Swinford Hospital as it was in the 1950’s. Brian Kennedy (who joined in 1965) Lance Naylor (1966) and Phil Price (1967) are still alive, but Len is the last of the 1950’s old guard. What stories and memories he must have!
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