The Headmaster of Ellesmere College for the past 27 years has died aged 63, having lost his battle with cancer.
Tributes have poured in in memory of Brendan Wignall since his death on Friday. His sudden death has come as a profound shock to everyone at Ellesmere College, the local community and those who knew him from across the world.
Mr Wignall took up his role as Headmaster at the age of 35, being the youngest Head in the Woodard group of schools. He set himself the goal of being Ellesmere’s longest serving Head, which he achieved.
Tributes today remembered how he “dedicated himself to Ellesmere College” with achievements during his tenure including the erection of a new Lower School building, boarding houses expanded, and sports facilities grew: a new sports hall, tennis barn, artificial grass, and a roof over the swimming pool.
Mr Wignall leaves his wife Anne and two children Catherine and Hugh.
Weekend events, fixtures and a planned concert have all been cancelled as the College community enters a period of mourning.
On Monday a special service for students and staff will be held followed by a period of reflection and support for students with their tutors and support will be offered to students through in-house trained counsellors and through the school’s Chaplain.
Announcing the news on Friday evening, Mrs Vicky Pritt-Roberts, Acting Head of Ellesmere College, said: “It is with heavy hearts and great sadness that we share that Brendan Wignall, Headmaster of Ellesmere College, has died having lost his battle with cancer.
“His untimely death comes as a profound shock to staff, parents, pupils and old Ellesmerians, many of whom have not known any other Headmaster, such was the longevity of his tenure over 27 years.
“Brendan took up his role as Headmaster at the age of 35 and would modestly speak with pride at being the youngest Woodard Head.
“He then went on to set himself the goal of being Ellesmere’s longest serving Head, which he achieved. He often described himself as the luckiest person to have a job he loved. It showed.
“Brendan dedicated himself to Ellesmere and its students. He adapted to changing times with a fortitude that is so much at the heart of being an Ellesmerian.
“During his tenure a new Lower School building was erected, boarding houses expanded, and sports facilities grew: a new sports hall, tennis barn, artificial grass, and a roof over the swimming pool. Brendan was committed to sport and an enthusiastic follower of Liverpool Football Club.
“As a champion of the creative arts, Brendan changed the landscape around the school by adding sculptures and artwork for all to see.
“He developed a great enthusiasm for the beauty of stained glass, taking pleasure each day from an installation fitted along the cloisters.
“This installation was solely funded by leavers’ gifts and energetically directed by Brendan. His interest in stained glass work grew and he went on to develop his own skills to tremendous effect.
“Brendan reached out to spread the Ellesmere message further, fulfilling a long-held ambition to see an Ellesmere School overseas, when Ellesmere Muscat in Oman was opened this month (January 2024).
“He was closely involved with local charities in addition to being the Chairman of CReSTeD, and of the North West Academies Trust, and the Treasurer of HMC.
“Brendan was active in Ellesmere community events and supported his wife Anne in her role as Mayor.
“As Chairman of the Northwest Academies Trust, Brendan also built a strong partnership with Ellesmere Primary School. He was instrumental in keeping the local pool open, not only showing his commitment to the primary school but also the wider Ellesmere community.
“It is an understatement to say that we are going to miss his presence, his guidance and especially his sense of humour.
“He was a man of philosophy, and it was clear to everyone how that influenced his life. He had a strong moral compass and urged us all to be kind to each other – a favourite theme of his for assemblies, and when dealing with wayward students. ‘Be kind’ is a message that will continue to ring down the corridors of Ellesmere for years to come. He has left his legacy in our hearts and minds and Ellesmere College will never forget him.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Brendan’s wife Anne and children Catherine and Hugh. We know they meant the world to him.”
Paying tribute, Ellesmere College Chair of Governors Mr Charles Lillis, said: “I am profoundly sad to learn that Brendan Wignall, Headmaster of Ellesmere College has died after a battle with cancer, borne with great stoicism.
“His death is a great loss, not only to his colleagues and students – past and present – at the school, but also to the wider community.
“Brendan has been an inspiring leader of Ellesmere over his 27 years of dedicated service. He brought great passion, clarity of purpose and personal humanity to the role. His love of films, stories and anecdotes, and passion for Liverpool Football Club endeared him to all who knew him.
“As Chairman of the Governors since 2017, I have been privileged to work closely with Brendan. Our meetings were always perceptive, full of humour and devotion to Ellesmere College. I will miss him both personally and professionally.
“Brendan leaves a long-lasting and powerful legacy at Ellesmere College. I am determined that this will be carried forward and built upon by the dedicated and talented management team he created and inspired.
“Our heartfelt and deepest sympathies are extended to Brendan’s wife Anne and children Catherine and Hugh.”
Richard Morse, Chairman of Woodard Schools and John Inge, Bishop John of Worcester, President of Woodard Schools, of which Ellesmere College was one of, said: “Brendan stood apart as a fine exponent of what it means to be a Woodard Head.
“Nathaniel Woodard’s mission was no less than the transforming of society through the gift of an education rooted in the catholic tradition of the Church of England.
“Brendan saw himself as inheritor of that mission, with a clear vocation to realise it in his day and in his beautiful corner of rural Shropshire.
“Brendan’s commitment to recognising the unique strengths and challenges of everyone was reflected not only in his words but also in his actions, leaving an enduring mark on the hearts of those who had the privilege of knowing him.
“He lived for his family and the College, a man of quiet faith and a stoic attitude towards life.
“He celebrated life every day, knowing that being in this place at this time is what he was called to be.
“We give heartfelt thanks for him, confident that he will be welcomed into the arms of the God he served so well, whose love in Jesus is stronger than death, and pray for grace and strength for all who mourn his passing.”