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Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks served as a Governor at Hereford Cathedral School from Autumn 2015 and then as Chair of Governors from 2017 until his passing on Easter Sunday, 9 April 2023. In many schools, the Chair of Governors is an unknown entity, whose name is referenced in the abstract, but is a mysterious figure who is largely anonymous to anyone except the Headmaster. In sharp contrast, Philip was a universally known figure within the HCS community who was approachable, admired and loved in equal measure. The messages that I have received from so many colleagues – both past and present – and the profound sense of loss that they have articulated, is testament to that. 

Affectionately known as “the Admiral”, Philip was very much a part of the furniture, supporting countless School events with relentless faithfulness and building up strong relationships with staff and students alike. In my meetings with him on every third Monday, Philip would attend break in the Common Room, chatting with colleagues and hearing their perspectives. Staff were always impressed by his detailed knowledge of the School, his interest in their areas of work, and his unrelenting commitment to “the youngsters”. When Philip re-appeared in the Common Room after his surgery, the strength of feeling and affection for him were palpable.  

Philip was a universally known figure within the HCS community who was approachable, admired and loved in equal measure


Despite the rapid decline in his health, Philip remained Chair of Governors until his passing, conscientiously engaging in the business and affairs of the School right until the end. The life of Rear Admiral Philip Wilcocks was one of lifelong service – it is therefore in perfect keeping with his character that, until his very last days, he was sacrificial in his time and energies for the good of others. 

Given the level of immense responsibility that Philip shouldered during his life, it is unsurprising that he possessed an extraordinary talent to approach a situation or problem with a strategic mindset. Getting to the heart of the issue and peeling away the layers to arrive at the essence of the matter was a tremendous gift that Philip possessed and from which the entire governing body and school benefited. Schools in the modern world are complex places and, in addition to being Chair of Governors, Philip was a trustee of the charity and a director of the company; Philip took each of these responsibilities and duties with great seriousness and care. 


Philip Wilcocks

Philip Wilcocks


Philip exhibited high levels of trust and was unfailingly supportive; appropriately he also required high levels of accountability because he was the consummate professional and because he cared so much. In Full Governing Board meetings and in each Committee, his questions were probing, purposeful and precise – he would want explanation, reassurance or clarity, drawing upon his knowledge of the School and based upon his meticulous study of the pre-prepared papers. There was never the opportunity to switch off or to rest on one’s laurels and as a result, Hereford Cathedral School went from strength to strength under his leadership. The Covid era provided an unprecedented challenge and it is testament to Philip that the School emerged from this period with an enhanced reputation and in a stronger position to face the future than ever before. 

As a new Headmaster, one could not have asked for a better Chairman. Philip operated as a professional father-figure to me, and it was especially apposite that he shared the exact same date of birth as my own father. In paternalistic fashion, Philip provided unfailingly wise counsel, drawing from his immense experience, reminding me that while the advice was his to give, the decision was mine to make. Few Headmasters enjoy a Chair of Governors who is so sagacious and experienced without ever being overbearing or imposing. There are also a limited number of Chairs who would be willing to appoint a 37-year-old to lead a thousand-year-old organisation, but this certainly did not faze Philip. When challenged on the subject he reminded them in no uncertain terms that he was commanding the destroyer HMS Gloucester when he was my age!  

Apart from his utter disdain for football and description of tea as ‘the Devil’s brew’, Philip and I saw eye-to-eye on almost everything and especially in matters of faith. Philip’s support for the Christian ethos and values of the School were central to his vision and he understood that a successful organisation could not have better foundations. Philip had a vibrant and deep personal faith and this shined especially bright during his last few months. His confidence in Christ and in the goodness and love of his Lord was unwavering, and he and I had the privilege of speaking about this at some length in the days immediately after his diagnosis. It was appropriate that he passed on Easter Sunday – the day in which the church celebrates the defeat of death and the resurrection of Christ. 

Philip’s naval legacy will be the content of countless academic tomes and scholarly papers by military historians. Yet when the next iteration of HCS’s history is written, then our successors will look back upon his tenure extremely favourably. They will note his remarkable strategic acumen, his incredible conscientiousness and his unfailing commitment to our great School. His memory and legacy will forever be a blessing and I know that I speak for all of us in saying that he will be very sorely missed. 

Dr Michael Gray, Headmaster

April 2023 

Above left: With wife, Kym, at the opening of Hereford Cathedral School’s boarding house, June 2019
Above right: Serving Christmas dinner in the HCS dining hall, December 2018