John Leaf

Dale Vargas writes:

04/02/19: John Leaf, who died in October 2018 aged 92, was a polymath.

He was academic: a scholar in natural sciences at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge; he was a musician: an accomplished pianist and viola player; and he was a sportsman: at Harrow he was in the first teams for all three “major” games and was captain of fives. After National Service as a lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade and Cambridge, he returned to teach at Harrow, where he had been born, the son of a House Master, and where he remained in his retirement. 

At Cambridge, John played in the university second pair with his House, School and College colleague, RGL Taylor in 1949.

As a master at Harrow he was much in demand as a games coach as he was an outstanding Harrow footballer, a game that was played in the same term as fives. He was, however, Master i/c fives for five years in the 1950s. 

He retired from teaching in 1988 after being a House Master and Senior Master, but continued to serve the School as Secretary of the Harrow Association and founder of the Museum of Harrow Life. 

John Leaf was a modest man, in spite of - or perhaps because of - his many talents. He played all his fives for the Old Harrovians and Harrow Masters, and rarely sought the limelight. I remember playing with him for the Old Harrovians in the old Emmanuel College court in about 1960 and beating the University second pair - a victory, almost entirely due to John’s skill, that considerably advanced my prospects of getting into the Cambridge team. As in all he did, John was an unspectacular fives player. He appeared to have “big hands” probably because he played with them very flat. He cut well, with emphasis on accuracy rather then power, volleyed well and, like all natural players, had uncanny court-craft so that he rarely appeared to have to hurry his shots.

In 1955 John married Jean Witchell, an international fencer, and they had three children.