Xavier Stavrou-Long (2013-2019)

Died on 3rd October 2021 aged 20

Below are several tributes written for Xavier. The first is from the Head Master, Simon Everson, and it is followed by tributes from his classmates, Jacob Softleigh-Moore and Max Kendix, and a poem written by Isaac Betteridge.

The first words I ever heard spoken of Xavier were said to me by Mr Couldridge in the summer holiday prior to Xavier’s arrival at the school.  I had asked about the incoming Music Scholars, and Mr Couldridge said, ‘We’ve got a special one coming – and he plays the French Horn.’ Typical of Xavier – to pick the hardest instrument to play.

Xavier was the epitome of a Merchant Taylors’ Music Scholar. I remember him playing his French Horn in the first Informal Concert of that year and wondering what this amazing talent could achieve. He played in the Symphony Orchestra from the moment he arrived and was always the consummate professional. He was also in the Concert Band, Taylors’ Brass, and the Wind Quintet. 

In addition to playing the French Horn, Xavier was an extremely talented cellist and pianist. I remember in his last year at school he played the piano brilliantly in a trio with Toby King-Cline and Demetri Alvanis. Of course, he was also part of the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra and the Junior Royal College of Music. It was not just Xavier who was a special part of Music at Merchant Taylors’ School; Sula and Stuart were seemingly at every performance, supporting the Serenaders.

But Xavier was not just an astonishing musician – he possessed a towering intellect.

The Historians at MTS recall Xavier as ‘simply stellar’. He will forever be one of the Merchant Taylors’ “History Boys”: the class of 2019, who achieved the best History A Level results in the entire country that year.

In the memorable words of Mr Hale, Xavier ‘possessed a mind as sharp as a bacon slicer’.

Now, let’s get one thing clear about Xavier – and we will return to this a little later – Xavier liked a fight.  I don’t mean a physical scrap – he liked a war of words; the cut and thrust of debate. He found argument delicious. He would always push to see what more could be said or thought. As a consequence, he was also the master of notable comparisons and questions. For example, he usefully compared the reign of Edward III with the managerial style of Arsene Wenger. And in his German oral he rejected the usual banalities, instead proposing in perfect German to the startled examiner: 'Joseph II: An Enlightened Despot?'

I think Mr Hoyle sums up Xavier best when he said, ‘There was always something distinctive, something striking about teaching Xavier that went beyond simply his academic and intellectual ability, considerable though they were. I think it is that once he decided something was important, understanding it mattered to him.’

Deciding that something was important and therefore should be valued, regardless of what anyone else said, went to the heart of Xavier’s style.
That exquisite sense of judgement drove his debating and his intellectual enquiry and it also made Xavier the master of the pithy comment. For all his courtesy and style, Xavier was a street fighter when it came to an argument. He could sum you up and cut you down in the same crushing moment. At the same time, he revelled in the absurd. Xavier was deeply, intrinsically funny.

And because Xavier had understood the world, from first principles, on his own terms – which is a vanishingly rare trait to possess - he was brave. 
He knew what was right, what was wrong, and what he thought of it all. So he didn't care what other people thought of him and if you want proof of that, just recall the 1980s briefcase which he carried his books and papers from class to class.

Mrs Shockley, Xavier’s tutor says of him: ‘At school we never saw him swayed by others, in any aspect of school life. If Xavier had something that needed to be said, he said it.  He did so because it was the right and fit and proper thing to say. People respected him for that.’

What do I most recall of Xavier?  His self-possession and an exquisite poise.  His deadpan face, especially when delivering a zinger. He got so many gold notes and commendations that he was a regular in my office.  He met me with a gentle condescension – that he would tolerate the moment, but only up to a point – coupled with an old-school courtesy.

Afterwards, I frequently had the sense that the real Head Master had just left the room to go back to class, leaving a rather inferior version at the desk. For a man whose politics professed to find all men equal, never was a man more pre-eminent.  Perhaps Xavier was just more equal.

In conclusion, the first words I heard of Xavier can also serve as my closing thought here.  ‘We’ve got a special one.’  True, indeed.

Simon Everson, Head Master


I’m really grateful for the opportunity to speak today because it gives me the chance to share some of my experiences with my best friend.

I met Xavier in Year 8, when he joined Merchant Taylors’. We became instant friends, and we grew up through the school together. After school, we’ve been just as close, paying visits to each other at university and spending countless hours hanging out over the holidays.

Something he said to me, one night this summer, when we were discussing our futures and career aspirations, is that he wanted to have a life at the end of which he could reflect and feel as though he’d had an effect on people’s lives.

There is no doubt that he would have achieved wonderful things, had he more time. However, in the time he did have, I’d submit that he achieved his aim.

Between us all, we have stories of times we’ve been touched by Xavier’s wit, his sharp mind, and his conscientiousness and I wanted to share a few of my own that I think highlight his best qualities.

As young debaters, in Mr Mackridge’s classroom, during the lunch hour, Xav and I used to tackle all sorts of topics, from corporal punishment in schools, which of course we were heavily invested in, to Europe, to pizza toppings. But I will always remember those days for Xav’s quick wittedness in rebuttal and in posing questions to the opposite house.

I particularly remember him saving a debate, which I assumed had been torpedoed by our second speaker’s nervous and inexperienced attempt at illustrating a point through dark humour. He expertly reframed the arguments and brought us back from the precipice to victory.

But, what I remember most clearly from that episode is the grace with which he took that student aside, gave him feedback in a way that he could understand and that wouldn’t embarrass him, and offered him aid in preparing for the next week’s debate.

I think, here, his virtue is clear.

And I’ve seen it demonstrated time and again throughout our time knowing each other, from small acts, like organising tickets to a concert at the royal albert hall, to larger ones, such as the story we heard from Max, with him stepping in to help with house music, after initially showing no interest in it, because he’d sat in on rehearsals and could tell the team were struggling.

A memory that will stay with me as long as I live is related to our time in the Combined Cadet Force. Before he came to lead the RAF section, a period of the lives of him, Helen Wheal and myself that involved many late nights planning how we could restructure and streamline the CCF, we were lowly cadets of no rank, in the same class.

I was being bullied by one of the elder cadets, who was supposed to be delivering a lesson, but had not prepared. I stood up for myself and argued that, their seniority did not entitle them to be mean, and a teacher was called in to bring order to the class. Xavier was the only person to fight my corner and convince the teacher of my innocence.

Years later, he told me that he remembered my exact words that day and had always respected me for remaining defiant. I’m grateful to him for supporting me. And it pleased me to know that I had impressed such an impressive and inspiring person.

Xav didn’t often give out complements, but when he did they were heartfelt and impactful.

One thing I loved about Xavier was his silliness. He made me download a horoscope app for his enjoyment. He loved to play games and say outrageous things for a laugh. And he never missed an opportunity to tease.

Some of my fondest memories are of us sitting in a room talking nonsense, like the time this summer we sat playing Whale song to each other, down in Southampton.

He was even able to joke around with even the most serious of his lecturers, which I think speaks to his true uniqueness. Only his special combination of intellect and wit could turn a class into a casual, jokey, but academically enriching conversation.

In sixth form, of course, we had the pleasure of studying our Pre-U History course in the new block and the cohort was split into smaller groups. According to the timetable, Xav and I were in different groups and yet, three times a week I’d walk into the library for Mr Horan’s crusades class, and find him waiting there, briefcase on the table, ready to learn. His passion for the subject and interest in the covered periods drove him to attend, not only his own classes, but mine as well. And, while one takeaway here is of course the quality of Mr Horan’s teaching, that student’s not even on his register would sacrifice their free periods to come and study, I think that it serves well as a testament to Xavier’s focus and academic rigour. A quality that he emanated, that was obvious to us all, that his parents were immensely proud of, but that he bore with tremendous humility. He never bragged about his achievements, despite their multiplicity. And instead, whenever I asked him about his studies or music, he’d be ready with an anecdote about someone else who had impressed him with something they had done or said.

Something that Stuart said to me the other day, which is very true, is that Xav didn’t change himself for people. Oftentimes he expected people to change for him, but he didn’t ever bend to social pressure. And it means that, in a broad sense, we all experienced the same great young man.

And my hope is that, in my stories and those of Max, we can all see those elements of his character that were unchanging, and affected us all.

I will miss my brother.

Thank you.

Jacob Softleigh-Moore (2012-2019)


During one of the countless afternoons Xavier and I spent together laughing, debating, plotting and philosophising, we decided to write a response to the Headmaster’s Assembly that morning. The Headmaster had argued for the merits of some of Marx’s critique of capitalism, and Xavier left the hall primed for one of his much loved intellectual rants.

It’s so wrong, he said, you can’t just separate Marx’s philosophical arguments from his economic ones – they are one and the same. And some other arguments on Hegel which flew quite firmly over my head.

Tongue in cheek and with all the confidence in the world, we asked the Headmaster for a copy of his speech, which he surprisingly provided. We sat at computers next to each other, spinning off witty riposte after clever jibe.

Then Xavier paused and held his hands to his head. Oh my god Kendix – he’d only ever call me Kendix – have a look at this. On an archival website called Marxists.org, Xavier had stumbled upon an article by Feuerbach. Here, he said, there’s the title of our response: “Critical comments on a reactionary philosophy”. It was perfect. I replied – “mate, you’re a genius”.

And he was. He really was. For the past eight years, I’ve been consistently in awe of his absolutely effortless intelligence. He wouldn’t like me calling it effortless, because that diminishes the countless hours he’d spend poring over academic texts, with a perfected note-taking technique, conjuring up new ways of thinking about history.

It doesn’t appreciate the careful consideration of each side of a debating topic and how to express it perfectly. And it dismisses how much he put in, every day, to talk to the right people, expand his knowledge, satirise the ridiculous, and shape the thoughts of those around him. But - his thinking was just so quick, so sharp, and so original, that effortless still seems like the right word.

Even though this is the dimension he showed most in everyday life at Merchant Taylors, there was so much more to Xavier than the genius, and I was lucky enough to experience so many sides to this incredible man.

There was Xavier the musician. In the first few years of school, I knew Xavier’s flair, I knew he helped me sing, I knew he had absurdly high music grades in several instruments, at a younger age than anyone else, and I knew he loved spending Saturdays with a bunch of kids too talented for us mere mortals.

But the moment it really hit home for me was when, by chance, I saw him perform to a small hall in year 10 at Merchant Taylors. I stayed for his cello performance out of sheer curiosity. And I remember I’ve never been so moved by a piece of live music.

His five-minute stint at an Informal Concert honestly ranks above the time we watched the Berlin Philharmonic together in front of the Brandenburg Gates. He channelled all his feeling and passion into the piece and I was just in awe.

It was this performance that I used to persuade Xavier to run House Music with me. It took a lot of convincing but after seeing just how incompetent I was at coordinating anything vaguely musical, he took over. Three weeks and dozens of rehearsals later, the underdog plucky Andrewes team won House Music for the first time since 1970, with an unforgettable quartet rendition of Titanium.

There’s a great and pretty rare picture of Xavier with a huge grin on his face after winning. He didn’t want to admit how happy he was though, not to the third formers – that’s a sign of weakness. So afterwards it was just me and the third formers giggling about how happy Xavier was.

When he wasn’t the musician or the academic, or indeed the military leader or combative sportsman, Xavier had an amazing sense of adventure. The time that this most clearly came into view is when we – somehow – managed to travel for three weeks around Europe and Russia. It was such an amazing experience, but also completely bizarre.

Throughout the trip, Xavier noted down various memorable things. Entries include: “slightly limited upper dynamic range in the 1st and 2nd movements of Berlin Philharmonic performance … Andante was perfectly paced”, “unironically interesting conversation with two Polish gentlemen on a train” and “I said aloud that there was no surveillance in a particular room in the Stasi museum and a woman suddenly appeared behind us”.

But what I remember most is when we visited a beach in Kaliningrad, and Xavier insisted that we swim in the ocean. It was mid-September, the beach was empty, but he was undeterred. Half an hour later we discovered that the thin strip of land we were on had a peaceful warmer lake where sensible people swam; but the rough waves of the Kaliningrad coast are surely a better metaphor for Xavier’s wild side.

One of the cruellest things about losing Xavier so early is what was to be. He was determined to do two things – be a leader and have a genuine direct positive impact on the lives of as many people as he could.

Xavier had a remarkably, impressively clear sense of right and wrong, and very sincerely thought about how his life choices could make a difference in the world. He could lead a team or, no doubt, a batallion. I recently asked him about his career plans. He replied “probably employment law. Failing that, a cult leader”. He said several times that he is a big fan of absolute dictatorship, as long as he is the dictator.

It’s really hard to describe Xavier’s sheer strength of personality. Actually, it’s impossible. Anyone who has had a conversation with him has felt this. The two times he stayed with me in Durham, everyone he talked to came under his spell. Not just at his clarity of thinking but also at his ability to listen so carefully and considerately to others.

Xavier was truly my closest and dearest friend from the moment we first met in tutor group. A remarkably kind, generous, emotionally sensitive man, who was always there for me when I was at my most fragile. I would say “Can you help me out, as a friend”. “Always” he’d reply. And listen. And help.
Xavier – thank you. Thank you for bringing so much joy into everyone’s hearts. Even though your time here with us has been cut short, you will never stop inspiring me. Your extraordinary personality will forever live on in my memory.

Thank you Xavier. I love you and I miss you.

Max Kendix (2012-2019)

For Xavier 

The casket’s smooth and polished, the flowers flank the frame
The air is crisp and cutting, the clouds hung low in shame
You turn to see your fellows, their eyes once young and bright
Their mouths are set as stone now, faces dark against the light 

We speak in furtive glances, sunken stances side by side 
The once proud tongues of England’s young now twisted shut and tied
For what words could do him justice? What pithy turn of phrase
When his voice rings in your eardrums, and his absence haunts your gaze?

All comfort seems abhorrent- should this pain not guide your days?
How to honour his example, with all meaning lost to haze?
When joy has turned repulsive, and laughter cold and cruel 
Should the world not stop its turning? Should summer turn to Yule?

He was proud and loud and cunning, living patiently with pride
Never shirking, always working, his whole wondrous self applied 
Now his fire is extinguished, all his being turned to smoke
He lives only in our memories, in the silent words we spoke

Shadows loom on the veranda, winter night now closing in 
The time for death is over- now the living must begin 
And when the reaper claims us, when our lives does time condemn
May our friends speak half as highly as we wished we’d done for them

By Isaac Bettridge (2012-2019)


If you would like to send a tribute in Xavier's memory for us to publish here please email development@mtsn.org.uk


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