Thursday, 17 August 2017

‘The Legend’ who went from school to politics

THE new Mayor of Henley likes to see young people enjoying themselves.

THE new Mayor of Henley likes to see young people enjoying themselves.

Stefan Gawrysiak, a retired teacher, was elected two weeks ago and the first major event of his year in office will be tomorrow’s (Saturday) Music on the Meadows festival.

Organised “by and for young people” it will feature more than 20 artists performing in Mill Meadows during the afternoon and evening.

The 59-year-old Mayor, whose son-in-law is a professional rock musician, helped organise the festival and hopes it will become an annual event.

As the former assistant head of Gillotts School, he is enthusiastic about inspiring young people and giving them responsibility.

Indeed, his pupils knew him as “The Legend”.

“I stuck around for so long and had a reputation as being good fun and a good teacher so the nickname stuck,” he says. “I was very pleased with it.”

Mr Gawrysiak spent more than 30 years at the comprehensive where he taught chemistry and physics before becoming head of ICT in 1993 thanks to a stroke of luck.

The then headteacher wanted to develop the school’s technology department, which consisted of only one computer in the maths department.

On discovering that Mr Gawrysiak wired the machine’s plug, the head decided he would be the perfect person to take on the role.

The Mayor recalls: “I didn’t say I didn’t actually know about computers because it was a great opportunity.

“Fortunately, my friend Anthony Lewis actually knew about computers as he was beginning to write programs.

“I spent two weeks in the summer holidays learning how they worked so that when I took over the job I knew at least vaguely what I was doing. I was completely self-taught — I just worked and worked and worked.”

Within a few years, the school had a dedicated computer lab with a dozen machines.

Mr Gawrysiak says: “Now there must be 450 computers as well as laptops and mobile devices like tablets and smart phones.

“I certainly enjoyed the development side of it. We were well ahead of the time as we worked out a way of streaming videos across a computer network.”

Mr Gawrysiak himself went to school in Redditch, where he was born to Jozef, a Polish prisoner of war who moved to England in 1945, and his wife Muriel.

He took his A levels at Bromsgrove College and then attended a teacher training course in Oxford. He taught at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, the Abbey School in Berinsfield and Wheatley Park School in Holt, near Oxford, before moving to Gillotts.

He remained at Gillotts until his retirement as deputy head in 2011 and worked under four headteachers, including the current head Catharine Darnton.

“She is an absolutely brilliant head and has done extremely well for the school,” he says. “Gillotts is the only comprehensive school for 11- to 16-year-olds in Henley and I think parents and students are extremely well-served.

“It has a great reputation, which means parents are really confident that their children will receive a good education.”

Mr Gawrysiak says it was a “huge wrench” to leave the school where he spent the majority of his working life.

“It was time for a change, even though I loved the students and the staff,” he says.

“It was a school I was extremely happy in. I got up every morning and would bounce into school because I just enjoyed being there.”

He met his partner Catherine Allen-Notaras at Gillotts when she joined the school as a science technician.

“I saw her in the prep room and I thought she was a very attractive lady,” he says. “We got chatting and the rest is history. We were both single so it just happened.”

The couple now live together in Elizabeth Road and her mother, Betty, lives in Greys Road.

In their spare time, the couple enjoy listening to classical music, visiting National Trust properties and going to concerts, the opera and the theatre, especially in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Shakespearean plays.

Mr Gawrysiak decided to help fill the void left by his retirement by joining Henley Residents’ Group, the controlling group on the town council. He was elected to the council in 2011 and says he has never looked back.

“I had always been an admirer of Henley Residents’ Group,” he says. “It has done a fantastic job for the town and I like the idea of it being independent and non-political.

“I enjoy debating and reading all the paperwork and doing things, creating things and getting them done.

“Throughout my teaching career I created new ideas, whether that was ways of teaching or computer systems, and it is the same with the council.”

He says he felt honoured to be selected as HRG’s candidate for deputy mayor and then mayor so quickly after joining and admits he has an “enormously difficult act to follow” in Elizabeth Hodgkin.

“She has got this boundless energy — I think she has got batteries inside her which keep her going,” he says.

“She has been in the town for a long time and everybody knows her. She is a member of lots of organisations and has organised some wonderful events like the jubilee celebrations last year.

“Although I haven’t been on the council that long I have been in and around Henley for 30 years so I know a lot of people in the town and if I can do half as well as her I’ll be doing a great job.”

As Mayor, he plans to visit every charity and organisation in Henley — no mean feat considering there are more than 200.

Mr Gawrysiak says: “Henley has a wonderful community and I will do all I can to encourage this. Henley people create things and they just get on with them, whether it is the twinning associations or the choirs.

“I really want to be seen around the town and will be visiting them and doing what I can to get their messages across and raise their profiles.”

His chosen charities for his year in office are Sue Ryder, Age UK, the Chiltern Centre for disabled children, Headway and Riverside Counselling.

Mr Gawrysiak is a member of the new Henley Bled Twinning Association and the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge while Ms Allen-Notaras is a member of Henley Architectural Society and Henley in Bloom’s Gardening Buddies.

The Mayor’s daughter Ayeska, 25, works for a travel company in Bath after graduating with a first in languages.

She is married to Pete Sené, a keyboard player who is currently on tour with Everything Everything. Earlier this year, the band supported Muse in Europe and will play the Isle of Wight and Glastonbury festivals.

“He’s a lovely lad and they really like each other so I am extremely happy for them,” says Mr Gawrysiak. “He’s away for quite a bit of time of the year touring but she holds the fort.”

Ms Allen-Notaras has a son, Mark, 30, who lives in Romsey and works as a computer programmer and analyst.

Both children attended the mayor-making ceremony at Henley town hall.

Mr Gawrysiak says he is unlikely to leave Henley.

“Catherine and I love living here and I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he says.

“Henley is a wonderful place to live and work. It’s very beautiful and there is a lot going on.

“We have things for young people to do through to the old and I hope Music on the Meadows will help encourage that.”

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