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News > Obituaries > IN MEMORIAM Stephen Christopher Coles

IN MEMORIAM Stephen Christopher Coles

Vincent’s Club is saddened to hear of the passing of Stephen Coles (Magdalen College) we extend our sympathies to his family and friends. Please read Stephen's obituary, written by his wife Alexandra.
8 Dec 2023
Stephen Christopher Coles (Magdalen College)
Stephen Christopher Coles (Magdalen College)

Stephen Christopher Coles
Vincent’s Club

Stephen left us a few months ago, discreetly, as he always lived and left an immense void in our
lives. His hallmark was to be humble in his achievements and that endearing quality made him
appreciated by all who knew him.

He was “town and gown”. Born in Oxford in 1933, he went to school to Magdalen College
School and finished his studies there as Head Boy. His old Headmaster, Master R.S. Stanier,
congratulated him on his “versatile achievements which have tipped the Magdalen lillies with
gold”. He collected two caps for winning the U15 England vs Wales in 1947-1948
He was called up for National Service in 1952 and commissioned officer in the Royal Sussex
Regiment, Western Command.

In 1954, he went to Magdalen College to read History and graduated in 1957; this was followed
by a Diploma in Education in 1958.

Stephen’s lifelong passion remained rugby and his allegiance steadfast to his Alma Mater.
Although he was talented in many sports, it was in rugby that he excelled. A true Blue, (he
obtained his Blues in 1954, 1956 and 1957) he demonstrated his skills in many games and
scored a winning try against Cambridge in the Varsity match on 11 December 1957. The Times
sports headline recorded: “Oxford Smash Cambridge Rugby Machine”.

Even though he played hard in the Varsity matches, he enjoyed taking part in the combined tour
to Harvard and Canada with the Cambridge team, the love of the game overtaking the old rivalry
with Cambridge.

He was invited to play for the Barbarians Easter Tour and for the Tour of Canada in 1957.
Unfortunately, he was refused permission by the university because of the looming finals and
always regretted the missed opportunity.

He was also a Barbarians reserve for the Tour of South Africa and considered these invitations
to be an honour. He thought of them as “distinguished invitations”.
He participated in various rugby tours, notably to Ireland, Scotland and France.
England Trial in December 1956.

He was a Reserve in Final Trial at Twickenham in 1957.

He was invited to Barbarians vs East Midlands but could not play because he had been injured.
Aged 12, he started perfecting his long, accurate passes at Magdalen College School. He was
the captain of the Greyhounds. He played as a scrum-half and during his three years in Trinidad,
played for Caribs and coached rugby and made lifelong friends there.

In the words of Wing Forward, his game was “supreme artistry and graced Trinidad rugger”.
CRC Gardiner, OBE, when asked who his team of outstanding players of the Sixties would
include, said: “Scrum half Stephen Coles who played three times for Oxford in the Varsity match
and later played for Harlequins”.

He remained a friend with W. S.(Bill) Lawrence who was a school friend and teammate from
their days at Magdalen College School. Both were junior internationals and both got their Blues.
Both showed outstanding talent at school. Their friendship ended with Bill’s death, in 2015.
When he decided to stop playing rugby, “hanging his boots” as he called it, he carried on playing
golf and cricket with some of his old teammates.

He enjoyed attending Vincent’s reunion dinners whenever it was possible and always wore his
tie with pride.

In his last years, Stephen managed to inspire two young French neighbours and taught them to
do a spin pass in the garden. They took up rugby and told us on his memorial service that they
wanted to play for Harlequins when they were older. They were also fascinated by his faded
Harlequin shirt which bore no logo.

Stephen graduated in History at Magdalen and taught in various schools. He taught History at
Trinity College, in Port of Spain, then at Haileybury College where he was also a Captain in the
CCF. From there, he went to Sir William Borlase’s in Marlow, and subsequently took up the post
of Head of History at Henley Grammar School and carried on with the CCF. Henley Grammar
School became King James’s College and he was appointed Vice Principal and Director of
Studies. Finally he obtained the post of Vice Principal and Acting Principal at The Henley Sixth
Form College until he retired.

Not leaving the academic world entirely, he became a FEFC inspector and kept his finger on the
pulse of the Tertiary Sector.

He had a great empathy with students which extended also to his wife’s students, who simply
called him Steve.

Wherever he went, he proved to be an inspirational teacher, a supportive colleague who could
be relied upon and who provided “the calm in the tempest” in times of crisis.

A natural sportsman, Stephen was also a poet, a writer, a painter and a scholar, disciple of AJP
Taylor, whom he admired greatly, and who had been his tutor at Magdalen. He was also a
green-fingered gardener and an amateur ornithologist, able to relax in the sunshine and
contemplate the fruit of his labour.

Above all, he was a family man who enjoyed regular trips to France, but also to Martinique,
Guadeloupe and Corsica as he had acquired a taste for islands in the sun when he lived in

Having married a French woman, instead of returning to Trinidad, Provence and the French
West Indies beckoned, under the pretext that the food was better. Nevertheless, he kept in touch
with his friends from Trinidad and Tobago. Until his last Autumn, he enjoyed soaking the sun and
then having a sundowner, a habit he had acquired in Trinidad.

Those French cousins who were rugby players were pleased and honoured to welcome in their
midst a Harlequin and an English gentleman with a wry sense of humour.
Before the Varsity Match in 2012, Alistair Hignell (who played for Cambridge in the Varsity match
in 1975) wrote for the Times:” rugby where wit, imagination, flair and intelligence can be given
their head”.

This is a perfect description of how our beloved Stephen played his game.
Stephen’s advice, from his rugby years, was always to watch the blind side.
Unfortunately, his illness came from the blind side and mercifully took him away quickly but

He is survived by his wife, their son and daughter in law.

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