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David Kemp, teacher who spent most of his life at Tonbridge School but endured a torrid few years as chairman of Kent County Cricket Club – obituary

David Kemp - Courtesy Kemp family
David Kemp - Courtesy Kemp family

David Kemp, who has died aged 92, spent virtually his entire life at Tonbridge School in Kent. He was head boy and an accomplished sportsman before returning as a teacher, taking charge of a house and becoming second master for 18 years as well as acting headmaster. In retirement he lived opposite the main buildings. He had a more trying time in another role, as chairman of Kent County Cricket Club.

Kemp played hockey for Kent and had been a decent batsman, appearing in the same Tonbridge first XI as Colin Cowdrey, to whom he was a lifelong friend and confidant. He had retired from teaching when he was asked to become chairman of Kent after the sudden death of Bill Sale in 1993, having already served the club as president and as a committee member. Great cricketers such as Cowdrey, Alan Knott and Derek Underwood had retired and the form of their successors was proving inconsistent.

In 1995 Kent won the limited-overs Sunday League but finished bottom of the County Championship for the first time since 1895. Kemp had to stave off calls for an extraordinary general meeting, telling members: “There is absolutely no complacency about our performances. How could there be?”

More troublesome in the long term were the club’s finances, in part because attendances were not what they had been. A new chief executive, Paul Millman, for the next decade presided over heavy losses, a botched redevelopment and the sale of land, as well as a valuable painting of the 1906 Championship-winners.

The historic St Lawrence ground at Canterbury was altered irrevocably. Housing and retirement flats encroached on the playing area and the nets, and a convenience store was built close to the entrance from Old Dover Road. Horse chestnut trees were cut down all too hastily.

Kemp, an affable man unaccustomed to running a business, had stood down by then, turning his attention after four years as chairman to supporting Old Tonbridgians in The Cricketer Cup, which he helped to initiate in 1967. He was treasurer of the competition, often acting as a scorer, and became a governor of his beloved school.

David Stephen Kemp was born on December 14 1928, growing up in north Kent, and was at Tonbridge from 1942-47. He played in the rugby first XV, captained the squash team, was head boy and went to Brasenose College, Oxford, as a Smythe Exhibitioner.

He started work as a solicitor but was soon back at Tonbridge as an assistant classics master, running hockey, golf, rackets and cricket and becoming a housemaster in 1969. He was entrusted by Cowdrey, who captained England, with the care of his three sons, Christopher, who would also captain Kent and England, Jeremy, and Graham, who would play for Kent.

Kemp was a protective presence, cutting out all press references to Cowdrey’s decision to leave his wife, Penny, in 1978, before the newspapers were handed out to the boys in his house.Through not taking sides, he remained friends with both. Cowdrey would stay with Kemp, attending the school’s chapel because he found the vicar in his home village of Limpsfield too Left-wing.

“Colin was with the Kemps a lot because of the homely atmosphere, especially when he wasn’t feeling too good,” said Cowdrey’s biographer, Mark Peel. “He rang him most days and got very animated when Kent were struggling.”

The crowning completion to Kemp’s 34 years at Tonbridge came as acting headmaster for two terms in 1989. He then became master of the Worshipful Company of Skinners (which had established Tonbridge School), having advised Cowdrey, who was president, on protocol.

Kemp married Marion Blower in 1966. She and two sons survive him. A third son predeceased him. Kemp’s service to Tonbridge was summed up by its historian, Barry Orchard, who wrote: “One could even say of David Kemp that he is Tonbridge.”

David Kemp, born December 14 1928, died September 23 2021