BACK in 1973 Pete Butler was given a one year temporary contract to teach at The Willows Primary School.
Never did he imagine he would still be there more than four decades later.
But after devoting himself to every aspect of school life, the dad-of-two has finally decided to leave the classroom behind.
During an impressive 41 years service, he has seen generations of families come and go – even teaching grandchildren of parents he once taught.
And it is testament to his popularity that so many current pupils wrote to request a special bus be loaned by Stagecoach to thank Mr Butler for his contribution.
Collected from his home on Friday (July 11), he was driven around town on an old Route Master bus before being met on the playground for an assembly held in his honour.
He told The Observer: “I don’t normally work Fridays but a colleague said she would pick me up. Next thing I opened the door and it was like the paparazzi with all of Year 6 on the bus!
“People waved to me around town and then as we pulled into the school I saw all the kids – it was really moving and hard to hold back the emotion.”
Starting out teaching in Year 5, he soon moved up to Year 6 where he has remained for more than three decades. But it has not just been in the classroom where Mr Butler has made an impact.
Responsible for organising the annual Isle of Wight trip and managing sports, he was also influential in setting up the first PTA pantomime, which he has continued to write, produce and perform in for the last 40 years.
And although he now has more time to dedicate to his family and hobbies, he insists the school will always have a special place in his heart.
He said: “I went into teaching and was knocked out by how much I enjoyed it. Year 6 can be quite stressful but it’s nice to help prepare pupils for the future and for me, it’s been one of the most privileged jobs you could ever do.
“My whole experience has been incredible – it’s been wonderful to share so many children’s lives and that’s something I will never forget.”
Paying tribute, headteacher Janis McBride said Mr Butler was “one of a kind.”
She added: “For many of the kids who have been lucky enough to be taught by him, it’s almost been like a rite of passage.
“He’s been the moral compass of The Willows for the past 41 years and the good thing is we’re not really saying goodbye as he has agreed to help out with the pantomime and the Isle of Wight trip, which is great.
“On behalf of everyone past and present, I would like to thank Mr Butler for creating a lasting legacy at The Willows and wish him well in his retirement.”
Pete Butler with pupils and members of staff on the Route Master bus that was arranged for his retirement send off. Picture by Jon Mullis 29.014.002.strat.jm1 (www.buyphotos247.com)