Monday, 15 August 2022

School mourns founding headmaster

BERT GONNELLA, the founding headmaster of Badgemore Primary School, has died after a long illness. He

BERT GONNELLA, the founding headmaster of Badgemore Primary School, has died after a long illness. He was 85.

Bert, from Tilehurst, Reading, moved to the Henley school in 1976 after being headmaster at Peppard Primary School.

He retired 13 years later, returning to his first love of music by offering singing lessons.

Born and bred in Dunblane, Perthshire, he was an outstanding young rugby player, representing Stirling County.

However, it was music which was deep within his heart and his talent as a singer and pianist came to the fore.

After completing his National Service in the RAF, he trained as a professional singer in Edinburgh, London and Geneva. He was an inspiring lyric tenor whose performances of oratorio, opera and German Leider delighted audiences. He suffered a serious health setback when he was 24 but fought back to fitness and resumed his budding singing career.

In 1960, he met his future wife Bron at Glyndebourne Opera in Sussex. They married a year later and, conscious of the need to provide a stable environment for the family they wanted, Bert decided to train as a teacher.

He started his teaching career in Winchester and became deputy headmaster at Long Lane Primary School in Tilehurst before landing his first headship at Peppard.

At Badgemore he broke new ground by integrating youngsters with special needs into mainstream education. It was highly successful and paved the way for others to follow. Following his retirement in 1989 he continued to teach, this time adult singing classes, at the Meadway and Reading University and worked as a music and theatre critic.

This was interspersed with family visits, walking holidays in Devon, Austria and Switzerland and multiple strolls beside the River Thames in Pangbourne and Henley with Bron.

Latterly he bore a long illness with patient quietude, supported to the very last by his devoted wife, family and friends at the Jasmine House Care Home in Reading.

He leaves his wife Bron, son Mark, daughter Judith Watts, three granddaughters and a grandson.

His funeral is at the United Reformed Church in Armour Road, Tilehurst, at 11am today (Friday).

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