Mike Lee taught French here at Trinity to all age groups, from the First to the Sixth Form, until he left in 1975 to take up the post of Head of Languages at Ipswich School. He was described in the valete written about him on leaving Trinity that he was "... a rich, full-blooded personality, part leader, part actor, who needed a stage on which his energies could be released and his talents realised ... He was frank, forthright and provocative in questioning basic assumptions ... in a very real sense, an educationalist ..."
Chess under Mike transformed from a fringe activity to a popular cult with a fine record to its credit in national competitions. Other extra-curricular activities saw him sailing on the Broads with pupils; developing their skills and confidence . His coaching of the U13 XV was legendary, yet his greatest contribution is recorded in drama. Mike's productions of Peer Gynt, Cyrano de Bergerac and Waiting for Godot, to name but three, were described as highlights of Drama at Trinity.
Alumnus Ian McDonald [1958-1965] recalls a great educator and, latterly, friend:
M W (Mike) Lee 1932-2017 - A personal memoir
"Mike Lee died earlier this year after a long period suffering from dementia, a condition of which latterly he would fortunately have been unaware.
I'm sure there are many of his former pupils who would like to know what became of him.
Mike arrived at Trinity in 1961 to teach French. He immediately became involved in all aspects of school life taking an active interest in most sports activities, drama and, fortunately for me, chess. At that time the school chess club had become defunct. Although not much of a player himself, Mike not only resurrected it from nothing but within three years made Trinity one of the strongest chess schools in the country, reaching the semi finals of the Sunday Times National Schools competition with the youngest ever team to do so. He was also an enthusiastic and effective supporter of drama being responsible for many of the school's productions over the next 14 years. Although not of obviously athletic build, he played an active role in school sport, coaching the U-13 rugby team with considerable success for a number of years and was involved with the Pedants (Staff) cricket team often officiating as umpire, though not all of his decisions met with universal approval. In his "proper job" he was a great believer in the then unfashionable view that the aim of modern language teaching was to produce people who could actually speak the language with some degree of fluency. He was an early adopter and advocate of the language laboratory as well as promoting school exchanges for a number of years with the Lycée Mignet in Aix-en-Provence. This may have led to a number of his students arriving at Oxbridge and other universities with a distinctly Mediterranean twang to their spoken French.
Mike had a rather unconventional background for a modern languages teacher. He was born in Portsmouth in 1932, the son of a Customs Officer. He spent his childhood partly in that area and partly in Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex where he first learnt of the joys of sailing, a hobby that remained with him most of his life. He was however always reticent about his background although he related how on arriving at London University on a scholarship in the early 1950s and becoming involved in the University Drama Society he was encouraged to lose his regional accent - whether Hampshire or Essex, I never quite knew. As a student he spent some time in France, forming friendships that lasted a lifetime and providing the contacts he was able to put to good use when establishing school exchanges throughout his career. He lived in London for a number of years, at one time sharing a flat with Tom Courtney, then just embarking on his career in the theatre. I don't know how his teaching career began as he was already 29 and a skilled teacher when he joined Trinity in 1961. It was Mike, along with Paul Wright and Don Dummer who started me along the road that led to my later career in translation.
Another of Mike's skills was the ability to complete The Times Crossword every day, usually in under half an hour. In my last year at Trinity when I captained the Chess team, Mike introduced me to the intricacies of the crossword while travelling to away matches. The Times Crossword has remained a lifelong pleasure although it took a number of years before I achieved Mike's level of expertise.
After 14 years at Trinity he accepted the post of Head of Modern Languages at Ipswich School. The move to East Anglia gave Mike the opportunity to re-indulge his love of sailing, whiling away many a weekend on the Norfolk Broads.
After some five years at Ipswich he moved on once again to become Head of Modern Languages at Oundle School. It was at Oundle that our paths crossed again. As he bade me farewell when I left Trinity as the old school was demolished in 1965, I thought it unlikely we would meet again. It was with a degree of surprise that in 1982 I discovered that one M W Lee had been appointed house tutor to my 11 year old son when he joined the junior house at Oundle.
Over the course of our sons' careers at Oundle, my wife and I grew to know Mike quite well. When he eventually retired from Oundle School he was unable to give up the life entirely and spent a few years teaching English in a school in Orleans, fulfilling his ambition to live and work in France for a time. At Trinity, I believe he had spent a couple of terms as an exchange teacher at a school in Paris, but he had otherwise never lived in the country other than as a student, making his level of fluency in the language all the more remarkable.
When he finally did retire, he returned to Oundle to live quietly surrounded by his books and his music, dashing off the occasional letter of protest to The Times or latterly, when he became too angry with The Times, The Independent. He gradually became a victim of Alzheimer's disease which eventually robbed him of his independence and his final years were spent in a nursing home where he was largely oblivious to his surroundings. He left no family, having never married (although there were one or two near misses).
His final wish was for his ashes to be scattered on his beloved Norfolk Broads."
A loss of a good man.