Thursday, 16 October 2003

Basil Pett died after a short illness on 16 October 2003, aged 83. He had been a familiar figure around the College over many years; as a pupil before the war; as a parent for 13 years in the 60s and 70s whilst his four sons were all pupils; as a member of the Old Brightonian Lodge; as President of the OBA from 1974 to 1976 and then as a Governor of the College.

He attended Brighton College Junior School and the College in the 1930s, being housed in Hampden ‘A’ in the old tin huts. Rugby, fencing and athletics were amongst his main interests in what he would otherwise have described as an average school career. He went up to Guy’s Hospital in 1937 and qualified as a dental surgeon in 1942. He joined the Royal Navy in 1943 and saw active service in the Far East before returning to the UK. Shortly after this he met and married Margaret Miller, daughter of the then owners of Courtlands Hotel in The Drive and she was to remain his wife for 55 years.

He had a number of shorter-term dental engagements in the late 40s and early 50s before joining a prestigious practice in London in 1954 where he remained for around 20 years. He was President of the Dental Society in London during this period and it was also during this time that his sons were at the College and towards the end of it that he became President of the OBA. In addition to the common sense and pragmatism he brought to this role, his Presidency was characterised in particular by huge numbers at the Annual Dinners caused at least in part by the excellent speakers, including Lord Carrington and Sir Hugh Casson, that he was able to invite down to an overflowing School House dining room in the mid-70s. Only cynics thought this due to the gentle pressure he was able to exert on his patients whilst they were at his mercy in the dental chair! He was, it must be said, no mean speaker himself, frequently lapsing into verse, and he was the perfect foil for those who were to follow.

Basil Pett, by John WorsleyHe had joined and had continued to be active in the RNVR/RNR following his ‘demob’ in 1946, including a secondment to the RMFVR whilst at HMS President in London and it was whilst here that as Captain and Senior Dental Officer in 1966 he was appointed the Queen’s Honorary Dental Surgeon. He retired on seniority soon after but was recalled in 1970 for a couple of years to assist at HMS Sussex during its expansion. His skill with his hands was also put to good use in restoring old cars and his ancient Rolls Royce and Alfa Romeo were frequently seen features in the College grounds throughout the late 60s and 70s.

A broken hip in a road accident in 1973 gave him some cause to reassess the sense in comuting daily to London and he had long cherished some legal ambitions. Thus it was shortly after that he slowly retired from his London practice and by the mid-70s had set up a practice at his home. This gave him more flexibility to indulge himself in his other interests, and in particular, those on the bench as a JP and as a Tax Commissioner. These roles saw him active in several fields, notably on the Brighton Advisory Committee from 1979 to 1989 and as Chairman of the Betting and Gaming Committee during the same period.

He was a generous, kind and fair man, with strong family instincts and enormous ‘clubability’ and fellowship, as witnessed by his involvement in both Brighton and Sussex rugby, with his Chairmanship of the Hove Club from 1975 to 1981, and his membership of numerous other clubs and organisations. His presence was marked always by an infectious laugh, a twinkle in his eye and a hate of humbug and pomposity. His well-attended funeral service was held in the College Chapel on 27 October 2003 and it was typical of him that he requested family flowers only but that donations be sent to the College Scholarship Fund, He is survived by his wife, Margaret, his four sons and ten grandchildren, one of whom is at the College.

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