Joe Tyler (SCR 2012-2021)

Died July 2021 aged 34

Joe Tyler interviewed at Merchant Taylors’ in the spring of 2012. He later admitted that, when the Head Master rang to offer him the job, he almost stopped him and said, “Steve, you had me at the cherry blossoms!”

Such little musings were a staple of the Tyler output and, looking back on it, they perfectly capture the man we all loved. He had that rare ability to let go of the cynicism and materialism of the world and instead, with a poet’s heart, live passing moments with full, honest and unabashed immersion.  

This is, of course, what made him such a treasured teacher. As a practitioner he was one of the best. Yet it was the wonder with which he spoke about literature that allowed his charges and him to transcend the musty classroom and brace the hills of the North with Gawain or flit through the woods of Greece with Puck.  

To be in his classroom was a mystical experience. With the curtains often drawn, because the sun shines directly into his room for most of the teaching day, there was always a sense of quiet industry in the air. Boys learned a reverence for English Literature there. 

He was a leading figure in the English Department for a decade of the school’s life. His Herricks were always academic but impassioned; none more so than the Hemingway series he delivered online during his sickness. He headed up the Lower School curriculum. He devised field trips to the British Library. He conducted research into how boys’ moods affected their reading.  
He loved reading and championed it tirelessly. He claimed once that reading for thirty minutes felt like an hour, whereas thirty minutes of television felt like a quarter of an hour. Thus, it added years to your life. If that is the case, then truly Joe Tyler lived more lifetimes in many different worlds than most of us mortals. Most preciously, he set up a Lower School Friday night activity called Book Boffz - Joe was always achingly cool!  
He was cool though. When asked for advice on appropriate school uniform for teachers, he would drop his contacts on Jermyn Street. He had a pair of Churches that were resoled and reupholstered more times than Theseus’ ship. Before he became a teacher, he worked as an artisan baker. “It’s been too long since I proofed a good sourdough”, he once wistfully declared. He was a man of nostalgic tastes. 
Indeed, he had the best qualities of an old-fashioned school master and so it was not just the English Department who benefitted from his dedication and joie de vivre. Every element of school he embraced was graced with full Tyler commitment. He was a perfect rugby master for the U14C’s: he taught every boy who passed through his ranks a respect for the game and themselves. He was a battlefields poetry liaison and a drama director. He was a sprints coach, a cricket coach and a two-term Trumpers C.C. president.  

He accompanied and led trips to California with Geography and to India to set up links with a local school. There were ski trips to Austria, France and, his ancestral home, Canada. With Joe there, these trips were filled with lifelong memories. Whether it was an ice football tournament with the Sixth Formers, or a teachers’ New Year’s Eve party in the hotel lobby, inviting returning revellers to join us, Joe always balanced professionalism with fun. 

After that New Years’ Eve, as bleary-eyed as we were, Joe noticed something odd. Our gap year bus driver had enjoyed the night before even more than us. His eyelids heavily fluttered as he drove a bus filled with school kids up precarious, mountain-side tracks. Before he blinked again, Joe was by his side doing what Joe did best – asking questions and listening carefully. The conversation was always about you when you met Joe. Try to turn it the other way, and he would have none of it. That young Canadian did get us up that mountain, roused and, no doubt, inspired by Joe’s company.       

This quality was why Joe was so universally adored by his colleagues and the boys. He possessed a limitless store of empathy. Early on in his career, his pastoral skills were so obviously excellent that he was given the role of Head of Spenser House. Of all the things Joe achieved at Taylors’, this stands out as the best. As a Head of House, he was unrivalled.  

Joe had soft eyes. He saw the whole picture for every boy and always had their back. He saw past singular opinions and, instead, viewed every moment through the boy’s perspective. With his protection and support, so many Spenserites flourished and they worshipped him in return.   

His boundless empathy was not just reserved for the boys. One of his great instincts was to tell colleagues outright what he admired about them, what their best qualities were. In the constantly shifting landscape of teaching, with new schemes and new challenges at every turn, you can lose sight of what made you a good teacher in the first place. Joe was always there to remind you. 

In short, Joe fell in love with Taylors’ and Taylors’ fell in love with him. He spent nine years at the school and had decided that, if he was lucky enough to return to work, he would spend the rest of his career here. An institution dating back to 1561 has felt this loss so keenly. It has left a hole in our landscape that it seems, right now, will never be filled. But it will be filled. Memories of his life, coloured by his cherry blossom mentality, will see to that.

It was a life that began on 28th January 1987. He was the son of Ian and Jane Tyler and, subsequently, an older brother to Owen and Lavinia. He was a Shropshire Lad through and through. He talked with such affection about his family and their home. He was married in a farmer’s field near his hometown of Church Stretton. For his stag do, we walked the Long Mynd. He loved the landscape of his youth and it sparked in him a love for Tolkien, fantasy fiction and the ancient texts of the British Isles. Many a student will have analysed Houseman’s ‘On Wenlock Edge’ in what must have been Joe’s favourite lesson of the year.    

Joe attended Wolverhampton Grammar School, where his father taught. He then went to Cardiff to study English Literature. Here he developed a love for the Early Modern period. More importantly, he met his wife, Maheera. 

So to the greatest achievement of Joe’s life. The one of which he was most proud and the one when the cherry blossoms bloomed fuller, truer and more beautiful than ever. The love he felt for Maheera and his daughter Cecilia brimmed in every word he spoke and every thing he did. His joy at becoming a father was indescribable. Any attempt here to capture the joy and fulfilment he felt in the beautiful little family home in North London will not suffice. Perhaps it simply does not need words. 

The final blossoms fell when that awful and unfair cancer took Joe from us. If there is one last lesson Joe taught us, it is that meaning can be found in suffering. He faced it in the only way Joe knew how: with positivity and grit. In his hospital bed he talked about how the news had inspired him to explore his faith more. Here he was, a young man dwelling on a positive route forward. This was Joe Tyler. 

The seasons of Joe’s life may have been cut short, but he lived every day like it was the first day of spring. It was beautiful, it was enjoyed completely, it was filled with happiness and love. He lived all the cherry blossom moments of what, knowing Joe, he would call his “wonderfully full” life.  

He will forever be that son, friend, teacher, husband and father, telling us all to live and love every moment we have in this world he enjoyed so much.  

About the woodlands I will go 
To see the cherry hung with snow.

James Manley


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