Robert Nimmo OBE

The High School of Dundee has been deeply saddened to learn that our former Rector, Robert Nimmo (OBE.,  MA., MEd., FBIM., FRSA), died peacefully in his sleep on Tuesday (9th November).

Robert Nimmo

Robert Nimmo (or Bob, as he was known as to his family, friends and colleagues), took up the position of Rector in 1977, a role in which he remained for the following 20 years.

Having studied at the University of Edinburgh and graduated with Double Honours in French and German, Robert officially began his teaching career at George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh. During his 19 successful and fulfilling years there, he was promoted first to Head of French and then to Depute Headmaster before being appointed to HSD in 1977. Prior to beginning his teaching career, he worked for the Army’s Intelligence Corps where he trained as a Russian Interpreter.

Whilst working full-time, Robert received his Master of Education degree and, based on his thesis on “Independent Schools in the United States”, was awarded a scholarship where he spent six weeks visiting independent schools and institutions across the USA.

Throughout his career, Robert gained a significant reputation as a leading educationist and was influential in the development of Scottish education. This was largely due to his appointments with major educational agencies including: Convener of the Modern Languages Panel of the Scottish Examination Board; member of the Scottish Central Committee on the Curriculum; member of the Governing Board of the SEB (later its Vice-Chair); and his involvement with the 5-14 Programme, the Howie Committee and Higher Still. The latter two bodies had a direct impact on the reform of upper secondary education, as well as reshaping the Scottish educational system.

Further to this, Robert was Finance Convener of the Board of Governors of Dundee College of Education and served on the Governing Council of the Scottish Council of Independent Schools, where he later took up the post of Convener of its Management Committee. He also participated in many committees of the Headmasters’ Conference and was a former Chairman of the Scottish Division. As well as being a member of the Headteachers’ Association of Scotland, he was a Fellow of the British Institute of Management, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a member of the Admiralty Interview Board and a Past President of Dundee Rotary Club.

As a result of his personal commitment to educational development and the quality of his contributions, Robert was awarded an OBE in 1990 for his services to education. As well as highlighting his own successes and contributions, it further enhanced the reputation of HSD as one of Scotland’s leading schools.

During his two decades leading the School, Robert steered the transition in status from Grant-Aided to Independent School, which enabled HSD to raise its own finances through the introduction of school fees. His dynamic leadership resulted in an effective and essential senior management team and the development of an attractive educational experience. He was also instrumental in the promotion of the Assisted Places Scheme, which offered young people from all backgrounds the opportunity to benefit from an HSD education.

Throughout his tenure as Rector, Robert also oversaw the expansion of the F6 curriculum; he encouraged senior pupils to pursue more advanced study and to broaden their overall educational experience. Such enhancements resulted in increased year group sizes. He was supportive in terms of developing extra-curricular experiences as well as academic ones. For example, he extended the activities available to include choral and instrumental opportunities, drama, debating, the CCF, Duke of Edinburgh and the popular “Friday 9” activities. He spearheaded the launch of the School’s charitable Interact Club and the Young Enterprise Groups, which served to provide even more opportunities to our senior years pupils and are still popular today.

A keen traveller himself, Robert was influential in developing the School’s calendar of foreign exchange visits and trips. In the years following this expansion, pupils travelled to countries including France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Switzerland and the USA. Sports teams were fortunate to venture to Canada and The Netherlands, while Music and Drama groups travelled to Vienna, Salzburg and Prague to perform for a wide variety of audiences.

Above all, Robert’s active encouragement and steady support of all aspects of school life were essential in providing our pupils with access to a wide range of opportunities; academic, sports and extra-curricular.

The School itself went through a period of transformation under Robert’s leadership, with Bonar House being acquired in 1979 and the Trinity Hall/Meadowside Building in 1989; the latter has accommodated many assemblies, examinations and events in the years since its acquisition. Two years before his retirement, Dalnacraig Pavilion underwent a series of upgrades to provide our young people with high-quality facilities.

The concept of “The High School Community” featured prominently during Robert’s rectorship and he actively seized every opportunity to expand this community further. The foundation of the Parents’ Association sought to facilitate communication between parents and the School, as well as offering the chance for parents to come together socially.

Robert was also strongly supportive of the fundraising activities of The Subscribers, who later became The Patrons’ Association and who are now known as The Friends of the High School of Dundee. He helped The Subscribers in their regeneration aims and was particularly supportive during the period in which fundraising for Trinity Hall/the Meadowside Building took place.

The 750th Anniversary of HSD took place in 1989 with Robert himself as the mastermind behind the calendar of exciting events, which included the 750th Dinner, the Garden Party and the Old Boys’ and Old Girls’ Dinners of that year. He thoroughly enjoyed catching up with Former Pupils at the various Reunion events that took place and his vision to expand the links between the School and its Former Pupils resulted in satellite clubs for the Old Boys’ Club being set up in Edinburgh, London and Glasgow.

Bob Nimmo was devoted to the High School and maintained his links and interest with the school throughout his retirement. He and his wife Hilary were regular guests at all the key events in the school calendar and he was always keen to be up to date with all that was going on behind the pillars. He took time to lend his support to all aspects of school life and remained a champion for the purpose, drive and ambition of the school.

Current Rector of the High School of Dundee, Lise Hudson, said, “So many of the features and highlights associated with the High School of today, owe their existence to Bob Nimmo. His determination to champion the excellent education on offer resulted in him tirelessly using his own talents to showcase the School, its staff and pupils at every opportunity.  He and Hilary’s children Robin, Stephen, Paul and Elise all attended the school and were real examples of this excellence in action.

“Central to his vision for HSD was to build a community bringing together and celebrating the energy, diversity and strength of all those involved in the School. A pragmatist who understood the power of humour and the importance of an approach to discipline which led to real lessons for life being learnt, Bob Nimmo earned the respect of staff, pupils, parents and the wider community.

“At this sad time, we want to pay tribute to all that the School meant to Bob Nimmo and to all that the school, gained in return. Our thoughts are with Robert’s wife Hilary and their children and extended family.”

In 1977, at the conclusion of his first report to the Board, Bob Nimmo stated “What the future presents may well be an academic question at present: what the present offers us is a thriving school. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This observation was just as true on his retirement in 1997 and remains the case today; it is Robert Nimmo’s legacy to the school.

We are sure that Mr Nimmo the teacher would have approved of us leaving the last word to one of his former pupils (in L2 at the time of his retiral): “Mr Nimmo is our Rector. He works at our school. He is a very good worker. He works on his computer. He goes to meetings. He counts the money. He puts out the milk and he cleans the blackboards.” Not a bad report card!

A memorial service for Robert Nimmo will take place on Wednesday 1 December at 11am, Dundee Parish Church, St Mary’s.