The death of Noel Gilpin in July 2003 following a long illness marked the end of an era in Wallace High School’s history. It is appropriate therefore that two former colleagues should have the opportunity to pay tribute to Noel Gilpin in the 2003 edition of Esperance and I am grateful to them for their contributions. Albert Porter, Vice Principal, needs no introduction, while Dr. James Kincade will be known to many as retired Headmaster of The Methodist College.
Mr. Gilpin is survived by his wife Daphne and twin sons David and George, both former pupils of the school. A. McBride
Noel Gilpin – An Appreciation
Noel Gilpin was small of stature but he always stood high in the estimation of teachers and colleagues. First and foremost he was an outstanding teacher of Chemistry. His 22 years in Methody left an indelible mark on his life and I can testify that he in turn left an indelible mark on the College. The English Speaking Union’s Page Scholarship was open to Assistant Teachers throughout the United Kingdom and he was the first and only recipient from Northern Ireland; then he became the Schoolmaster Fellow of Balliol, studying the inter-relationships between school and university teaching. He was undoubtedly a leading figure in propagating new methods of teaching science. He came away from these experiences aware that nothing – especially in teaching – is set in stone. Yet he had the reputation of being a most conservative teacher. I would say the exact opposite – he was one of the most radical schoolmasters around and he was always searching for better and clearer methods of teaching.
Inevitably he became a headmaster and his management skills were soon apparent. Perhaps he was seen to be rather autocratic but that was only on a cursory look. He worked hard himself and he expected the same from his staff. When they did not live up to his expectations he could be devastating in his criticisms.
I have found that men of action often surprise us by the dryness and curtness of their comments – and that was true of him. In brief he did not suffer fools gladly. He was strong on discipline but he was caring and he was fair. He had the innate ability to lead and to inspire – because he treated everyone in the school, from Vice Principal to groundsmen, with respect and in turn he won both respect and affection. Above all he was a shrewd judge of people and he always looked for the unexpected depths in seemingly ordinary pupils.
He was always clear in his own mind what was right and what was wrong. He believed that pupils worked better in bright and pleasant surroundings, so he had a vision of a splendid new building for Wallace High School and he pursued that vision with steely determination.
If you wish to see a memorial to Noel Gilpin just go and examine the present building in Clonevin Park. Each brick holds evidence of his DNA for they contain his perspiration and his blood. He was an extra Clerk of Works and he gave the builders and architects all sorts of problems in his search for perfection. The present generation of pupils and staff have cause to thank him and generations yet unborn will have cause to praise him.
Noel Gilpin was a man of absolute integrity; a good man in this bewildering world of ours – extremely hard working, scrupulously independent, honourable and brave. I salute his memory.
Dr. J. Kincade
Noel Gilpin – A Tribute
Noel Gilpin came to Wallace High School as Headmaster in 1969, from The Methodist College where he had been Head of Science. He was an outstanding teacher and had a deep interest in and a profound knowledge of Chemistry.
Wallace High School was in those days a rather small and relatively undistinguished grammar school, situated on the Antrim Road in Lisburn, when Mr. Gilpin arrived. However, he came with a vision and zeal to change that and he set about his business with fearless determination and fortitude. As opportunity arose he appointed good and enthusiastic members of staff and started to plan for the expansion of the school. Mr. Gilpin’s vision was to turn Wallace High School into one of the leading grammar schools in the Province.
The school as it now stands on this site in Clonevin Park is not only the realisation of that vision, it is also a living monument to the man himself. Noel Gilpin changed Wallace High School beyond recognition, not only physically but also in its ethos. Under him the school became noted for its academic achievements, the hard work of staff and pupils, sound discipline and the development of the pastoral system that ensured that Wallace High School was a caring school.
Noel Gilpin retired in 1988 leaving a legacy which lives on and continues to affect those whose privilege it was to know him. Pupils and staff, past, present and future, owe much to that unique and remarkable man.
Mr. Noel Gilpin 1923 – 2003
Headmaster of Wallace High School From 1969 – 1988
Last modified: March 7, 2017