James Dyson donates £18.5m to his old school where his father worked

Inventor Sir James Dyson opens up about his father’s tragic death as he donates £18.5million to his old school for a science wing named in his honour

  • Sir James Dyson donated £18.5m to his old school where his father worked
  • The money went towards building a science and engineering wing 
  • It’s been named in honour of his father, who died at the young age of 43 
  • The private school generously allowed Sir James to finish his education for free 
  • Sir James Dyson has donated £18.5 million to build a science and engineering wing at his old school – and yesterday named it in honour of his father, who was a teacher there.

    Alec Dyson taught at private Gresham’s school in Norfolk until his untimely death from throat and lung cancer aged just 43.

    Sir James, who was a pupil there in the 1950s, said the loss had a profound effect on him and helped shape his future as an inventor.

    ‘In those days, people hardly talked about cancer and I didn’t really understand it,’ said Sir James in an interview with the Mail on Sunday.

    ‘He used to come back from hospital with massive red circles on his back and chest. He took seven years to die, and he carried on teaching with a megaphone. He was very brave.’

    Not only did Alec’s death leave his youngest child distraught – it also meant that the family would no longer be able to afford the school fees for James and his brother, Tom.

    Sir James Dyson has donated £18.5 million to build a science and engineering wing at private Gresham’s school in Norfolk, his old school – and yesterday opened it in honour of his father, who was a teacher there

    Sir James Dyson has donated £18.5 million to build a science and engineering wing at private Gresham’s school in Norfolk, his old school – and yesterday opened it in honour of his father, who was a teacher there

    Alec Dyson taught at private Gresham’s school in Norfolk until his untimely death from throat and lung cancer aged just 43

    Alec Dyson taught at private Gresham’s school in Norfolk until his untimely death from throat and lung cancer aged just 43

    Headmaster Logie Bruce-Lockhart told James Dyson's mother that he and his brother could complete their education at Gresham’s for free

    Headmaster Logie Bruce-Lockhart told James Dyson’s mother that he and his brother could complete their education at Gresham’s for free

    But the headmaster, Logie Bruce-Lockhart, told their mother that the boys could complete their education at Gresham’s for free.

    ‘It was extraordinarily generous,’ said Sir James – and, in the years to come, he would never forget how the school helped him and his family when they had almost no money.

    The new building will be largely geared to helping pupils with science, technology, engineering and maths, fields in which Sir James has himself excelled, and also in the arts.

    A plaque on the building reads, ‘To my father – Wartime soldier and Gresham’s Master’.

    In a speech to the pupils yesterday, Sir James said: ‘Be a doer rather than one of those – far too many – attention seeking grandstanders who solve nothing.’

    Alec Dyson was not only a classics teacher, but also ran the cadet force, coached hockey and rugby, produced plays and was a keen photographer.

    Sir James told The Mail on Sunday that his last memory of his father was when Alec set off for Holt station, near the school, to take a train to London and Westminster Hospital.

    ‘His brave cheerfulness chokes me every time I recall the scene,’ he said. ‘It is impossible to imagine my father’s emotions as he waved goodbye knowing that he might be on his way to London to die.

    ‘At school in those days, boys were not allowed to have any feelings. Any feelings caused by injustice, bullying or compassion, I suppressed.

    Sir James, who was a pupil at Gresham’s school in the 1950s, said the loss of his father at such a young age had a profound effect on him and helped shape his future as an inventor

    Sir James, who was a pupil at Gresham’s school in the 1950s, said the loss of his father at such a young age had a profound effect on him and helped shape his future as an inventor

    The new building will be largely geared to helping pupils with science, technology, engineering and maths, fields in which Sir James has himself excelled, and also in the arts

    The new building will be largely geared to helping pupils with science, technology, engineering and maths, fields in which Sir James has himself excelled, and also in the arts

    But when it comes to government claims that the UK will be a science and technology superpower by 2030, Sir James told The Mail on Sunday he is sceptical

    But when it comes to government claims that the UK will be a science and technology superpower by 2030, Sir James told The Mail on Sunday he is sceptical

    ‘Of course, to lose one’s father in such an environment was doubly tough.

    ‘It didn’t do to cry or show emotion, just a stiff upper lip. Ever since, a part of me has been making up for that painfully unjust separation from my father and for the years he lost. Perhaps I had to learn quickly to make decisions for myself, to be self-reliant and be willing to take risks.’

    But when it comes to government claims that the UK will be a science and technology superpower by 2030, he told The Mail on Sunday he is sceptical.

    ‘We’re not getting there,’ he said, ‘because we’re massively underproducing engineers. We’re not making engineering an important part of our culture – and science an important part of our culture. So while we talk about it, we don’t do anything.

    ‘And we’re not encouraging people to make things here.’

    He believes Britain has a shortage of well over 60,000 engineers per year and is lagging behind many other countries. The Philippines, for example, produces 88,000 engineers per year, which is more than three times the number produced in the UK.

    He believes Britain has a shortage of well over 60,000 engineers per year and is lagging behind many other countries

    He believes Britain has a shortage of well over 60,000 engineers per year and is lagging behind many other countries

    Sir James has invested more than £40 million into the Dyson Institute of Design and Technology, which can award its own degrees, and where its current 189 students have no fees to pay

    Sir James has invested more than £40 million into the Dyson Institute of Design and Technology, which can award its own degrees, and where its current 189 students have no fees to pay

    ‘I’ve said all this to the education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, I say it to Boris, I said it to Tony Blair, I’ve said to David Cameron – I’ve said it to them all. I made suggestions to David Cameron for example that they could make engineering degrees free. It wouldn’t cost them very much, and they might get people gravitating towards that. We need ideas like that.’

    He has invested more than £40 million into the Dyson Institute of Design and Technology, which can award its own degrees, and where its current 189 students have no fees to pay.

    His other donations include £12 million to create a school of design engineering at Imperial College and £8 million for a Centre for Engineering design at gave Cambridge.

    ‘We in Britain tended to look down on these subjects – science and technology – and on industry as somehow grubby,’ said Sir James, ‘or, if not grubby, then somehow uncultured or even anti-intellectual. If anything, science and engineering are even more looked-down-on today.’