JOHN Hefford was an educational trailblazer.

When he took the top job at the newly opened Morton Secondary School in Carlisle in August, 1968, he was Cumbria’s youngest headteacher. Putting a 38-year-old Oxford graduate in charge of a major city school was potentially controversial.

But if anybody harboured doubts, they must have soon dissipated thanks to the dedication, energy and sheer professional brilliance of the young Mr Hefford.

He stayed in the job for 21 years.

A former grammar school boy, and son of a Burton-on-Trent brewery worker, Mr Hefford achieved academically from an early age - so much so that he won a scholarship to study, after his his National Service, at University College, Oxford, where his subject was history.

His early teaching career before he came to Carlisle took him to Wolverhampton, Liverpool, and Stockton-on-Tees, where he taught at a boys’ grammar school.

At Morton School, (now the Richard Rose Morton Academy), his school’s catchment area included the town’s solidly working class Raffles estate and Morton Park. It was a mark of his success as a head teacher that he regularly saw pupils follow in his footsteps by taking up places at Oxford or Cambridge.

John Davies, who joined Morton School at the same time as Mr Hefford and became Head of English and Drama, said of him: “One of his greatest qualities was an acute sense of fairness and justice: he was absolutely devoted to that philosophy.”

Under Mr Hefford’s leadership, Morton School was managed calmly, intelligently, and fairly.

Despite the pressures, Mr Hefford always remained level, rational, and approachable, said his friend.

As his daughter Ruth Inchbold-Stevens pointed out, the job meant a huge amount to him, allowing his passion for education to help literally thousands of children. Generosity and a caring nature were his hallmarks.

“He cared about his pupils,” she said.

In retirement, encouraged by Mr Davies, he reconnected with literature, the two men steadily working their way through regular discussions of the works of Shakespeare, as well as modern poets such as TS Elliot.

“He was very well read,” said Mr Davies, who recalled meetings to discuss works of literature which became something akin to university seminars. “We had wonderful conversations - but he also enjoyed the work of Spike Milligan.”

He also loved to walk in the Lake District, and to spend time in his beloved garden at Ivegill, near Carlisle.

Proof of his popularity came in a flood of Facebook tributes, including this from an ex-pupil: “My memory of you .... simply the love of your job shining through and displaying the passion you had for your school and your pupils.”

Another former pupil wrote: “A really good man - but tough if needed. RIP Sir.”

The comment from another former pupil was: “A truly lovely man. My deepest respects to him, and condolences to his family. As a former ‘Mortonian’, I hope his family know that he was deeply respected as a fair, kind and gentle man.”

Mr Hefford and his late wife Rosemary had two children.

He was also a cherished grandfather to Kate, Emma and David, and a great grandfather to Lucas, Sebastian and Alessandro.

Mr Hefford passed away peacefully on July 1 at The Cumberland Infirmary. Due to the coronavirus restrictions, there will be small and private family funeral service at Carlisle Crematorium on Monday, organised by George Hudson & Sons.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.