Remembering Jim Wright, Principal of Pilgrims
These tributes have been written with love to Lizzie his wife, Jim’s family and friends and the wider Pilgrims family.
Ktoś tutaj był i był,
a potem nagle zniknął
i uporczywie go nie ma.
Here someone was and was,
then suddenly disappeared
and now is stubbornly absent.
Nobel Prize Winner, 1996
I knew Jim from the day that John Beresford employed him to run errands at Pilgrims, the only qualification for the job being the ability to drive. I suppose his job title, if he had one, was “Office Runner.” He would sit in the corner of the Registrations Office or the basement at 8 Vernon Place, Canterbury awaiting instructions to collect brochures, liaise with the printers and the multitude of minor but essential jobs which nobody else wanted to do. His time at Pilgrims was nearly very short-lived: at one management meeting the then owner of Pilgrims, unaware of the essential job which Jim was doing, told the meeting that Jim was superfluous to requirement and that he would need to find a new job. It was the then Registrar Ann Aljabar who spoke up forcefully in Jim’s favour and so his career with Pilgrims was prolonged to the great benefit, not only to Pilgrims, but also to the wider world of teacher training in general.
During all the time that Jim was in this very junior role he would be observing, taking everything in, noticing the dynamics of the inter-staff relations and forming opinions which would later serve Pilgrims with such excellence
During my own forty-two years of being involved with Pilgrims, some of those years intimately so, some of them more remotely, I have seen many Directors of Teacher Training come and go, some more successful than others. In this role Jim was unique – uniquely successful. It is a role which demands a very special set of skills, especially human skills. One needs organisational skills in the extreme as one attempts to match trainers with courses, courses which may or not run, often at the last minute. One needs a truly in-depth awareness of the market in deciding which courses to run, which are no longer in demand and which are the courses of the future. It is often said that the most important quality needed by a leader is vision: Jim had this in abundance along with those skills I have already mentioned and with Jim at the helm Pilgrims always had a secure future and a clear and exciting sense of direction.
The skill for which I admired Jim the most was the ability to manage his trainers. Trainers are not easy people to manage, especially if they are of the ultra-creative type favoured by Pilgrims. Jim had the extraordinary ability to placate, to smooth ruffled feathers and to bring out the best in people, knowing exactly when to involve himself and when to adopt an attitude of “laissez-faire”.
I’d like to mention two anecdotes to illustrate the esteem in which he was held by both students and colleagues in the world of teacher training. Last summer my colleague Mercedes Pérez Berbain and I ran a course on “Leadership Skills for Teachers.” The course included a session where students interviewed Jim about his views on Leadership. The students wrote to us subsequently to tell us that the privilege of listening to Jim talking about Leadership was the highlight of their whole Pilgrims experience and requesting a transcript of the interview. The second anecdote involves my attendance at an EdYOUfest Conference held in August last year. At lunch I was privileged enough to sit next to one of the plenary speakers, a well-known and highly respected author and evidently a member of the Board of Directors of OISE, the current owners of Pilgrims. No sooner had I mentioned my involvement with Pilgrims than, wholly unprompted, she embarked on an expansive and effusive eulogy about Jim and his reputation and standing in the world of teacher training.
Admirable though Jim’s professional attributes were, it was perhaps as a human being that he was most admirable. Here was a person afflicted with the most debilitating of illnesses, the constant treatment of which would have laid low many a lesser person: not so Jim. I never ceased to be amazed by his indomitable cheerfulness and positive attitude in the face of what must have been immensely hard for him. He once showed me all the paraphernalia involved in his treatment, a whole room full of containers of various liquids, pipes and tubes and machines enough to intimidate anybody: it was with his customary enthusiasm and cheerfulness that he explained what everything did, how often he had to hook himself up to the various contraptions and the punishing schedules he had to endure each day and night. A very telling comment from him during the afore-mentioned interview was “I do not let my illness define me.” His ability to rise above his difficulties, to see hope and joy in everything was an inspiration to us all.
This tribute would not be complete without a mention of the remarkable role played by his wife Lizzie. It must have been so hard for her to witness everything Jim was going through and at the same time for her to portray an air of calm efficiency. She told me once how lucky she was to have Jim. I’m sure that he knew how lucky he was to have her. They were an excellent team that achieved remarkable things.
Jim’s untimely passing is indeed a tragedy. His presence was enormous: friends, colleagues and students must all be asking “When comes such another?”
Jim, exceptionalities explored
As the brutality of the tragic loss of a dear colleague sinks in, I feel the urge to reflect on what made Jim such an extraordinary person. Of all his great qualities the least celebrated was his skills as a leader. Not only did he possess this rare natural gift but his personality exuded a value that quadrates with the epitome of the real leader: humble enough never to project a hierarchical superiority but confident enough to take robust decisions with full accountability.
Jim’s entire career started at Pilgrims and ended with Pilgrims: he symbolised the contagious enthusiasm and commitment to the Pilgrims project which is the sturdy driving force of Pilgrims’ intellectual identity. It is impossible to overstate how colossal a development he went through during his 37 year career: straight out of school at the age of 16, he took responsibility for parking cars; he slowly worked his way up to business critical responsibilities (such as marketing and sales), before taking the top job! Jim was impressive in this position because unlike most non graduates I have met in educational roles, he wore his own academic qualifications deficit without a feeling of inadequacy. It was a firm measure of his passion for the field of education that he recognised the opportunities for personal growth in everything he undertook: the glass was always three quarters full and never half empty! He understood better than most pedagogues what overseas teachers wanted to achieve on their course and he was thus always able to guide his team towards delivering the most memorable classes.
Jim's strong willed character helped him to cope with a long period of a life threatening illness while maintaining a positive attitude: everyone admired him for it, everyone still feels he was unique: despite all the challenges life threw at him, he kept an air of serenity punctuated with enthusiasm and passion.
I'd like to think that I have lost a dear friend as well as an impressively competent colleague; he lives on as the unsung hero of the languages teaching fraternity. Although we shall all miss him, we should never forget what we have learnt from him.
Till Gins, OISE
An excerpt from an interview with Jim, August 2018.
“… Oh yes James Dixey, another larger than life character, I guess one funny story was in the old office, many years ago James and three other managers had the top floor and their own private toilet. A pigeon got in and James and the other wouldn’t go in and get it out, so of course I had to, I got my revenge – round the corner was a hunting shop and I bought a plastic decoy pigeon and when they had all gone home I went and put this plastic pigeon on top of the toilet, next morning James came in and we waited for him to go up the stairs and then we heard….”F&*king pigeon’s got in again…JIIIIIIIIMMMMM!” Ha ha! It became a Pilgrims mascott, we called it Percy Pigeon!”
A short anecdote which, I believe, totally captures Jim’s more mischievous side, something that I had the pleasure of sharing with him over the years and particularly over the last two years in Canterbury. His calm, empathic and no bullshit attitude, his ever-positive outlook on daily life, coupled with an understanding of people and actually caring about those around him and in what he was doing, helped give him a network of like-minded professionals and friends that anyone would be envious of.
Adversity is surely not something that we should ever wish upon anyone, but through that struggle and the daily challenges that he faced, Jim managed to shine brighter than you could ever expect from someone who lives within that adversity. A lesson to us all, a humbling and refreshing wake-up to many of us who trudge around in some sort of dull egotistical trance unaware of the ubiquitous beauty around us, within us, worrying about nonsense and First World banality that really shouldn’t be worried about: Jim had a way of unseating that fuzzy narcissism - nullifying the effect of what has been called “The Anaesthetic of Familiarity” that abounds within the western world. He could appreciate the light (and was a talented photographer) and the wind, and the sea, colours, sounds, music (a talented musician too!), puns, people, and books. He was aware of the polychromatic nature of human existence and believed in a humanistic approach to training and business that needs to be remembered and honoured; that wise and insightful light needs to be proudly held aloft to bring lustre and glory to the (frequently) mundane and sombre tunnel that TESOL seems to stumble and blunder down (like some sort of vainglorious parade) far too often. He constantly reminded us of the all too overlooked exquisiteness of just being here, that just being yourself with those around you is, in itself, enough.
This wonderful and fascinating journey – perhaps even a pilgrimage (he’d love that one!) – that justifies itself by the straightforwardness of simply being there, by our awareness of simply being here within it.
Jim always said: “Don’t worry about being this that or the other, just be yourself.” What a brilliantly simple yet gorgeously profound thing to say or think. Or be.
Thank you Jim.
In the early days of my editorship of The Teacher Trainer journal, we are talking the late 1980s now, Pilgrims was housed in number 8, Vernon Place, Canterbury, Kent, UK. The building was a three-storey ex family house with a basement. The basement was where Jim worked as the post boy. He took care of incoming post and mailings out. On his desk was a grey plastic pigeon….not a racing pigeon by the looks of it…but a nod to the idea of Jim moving messages around the building.
Once I had bought a long-armed stapler, Jim helped me by laying out the pile of printed A3 pages of the journal and stapling them together down the middle to make booklets or journals.
Jim also helped out as the company ‘car jockey’. For it was possible, just, to park in the tiny carpark outside the building. But if someone arrived after you. you were blocked in, potentially for hours, if the someone ‘nipped out for a minute’. But if everyone handed their car keys to Jim, he could jockey the cars around so whoever needed to leave, could.
Over the years, the Pilgrims headquarters moved buildings several times, Jim moved roles within the company many times, journal publishing technology moved on, and Jim and I didn’t work together very much again.
But one thing I really want to say is how stoically, how bravely, how cheerfully, Jim managed his illness over the many years towards the end. It seemed that he had a real determination to not only put a brave face on but to try to enjoy, to the full, the time he had left.
That he went so quickly at the end was, perhaps, wonderful for him. But of course a terrible shock to Lizzie, family and friends.
But Jim will always be, in my mind’s eye that cheerful basement post boy with the pigeon on his desk.
In Memoriam Jim Wright
While on an afternoon walk in one of the streets in Whitstable my wife and I had a brief encounter with Jim. He was in his car but he had recognized me and had stopped just to greet us. I could introduce my wife to him and we had a short conversation along the curb. When he drove off again we had a pleasant feeling because Jim had taken the trouble to interrupt his journey for a few words with us. This was the first memory that leapt to mind when I heard about his death.
Another image which I will never forget is related to a farewell party at the end of one of the summer courses on the hill. In Keynes College my group was singing a farewell song, or rather they were singing and dancing a farewell performance. At the end I was invited to join in and we all were singing and dancing. However, Jim was standing somewhere in a corner at certain distance, and watched the scene. I will never forget the expression on his face at that moment. It was a mixture of joy and regret. Joy, I think, because the Pilgrims’ students had had a wonderful course and were having so much fun now. Regret, I think, because at that moment he had probably wished to be more involved in the fun, but saw no possibility to do so.
A third memory takes me back to the moment when Jim showed me my room in Keynes College, the room I was to stay in during the summer course. Unfortunately most rooms were taken by the participants of a conference at Keynes College and this rather shabby room was the only one that was left. He visibly felt embarrassed when he showed me this room, but there was no other solution.
In short: I have experienced Jim as friendly and cooperative colleague. I wish all that are near to him all the best, especially Lizzy, with whom I have worked so pleasantly during my summer course work on the hill.
Henk van Oort
I received the news of Jim’s death with great sadness. We all knew he hadn’t been well for years and he didn’t hide the fact to any of us, but this sort of news are always a shock for friends and relatives. In the case of Jim he knew so many people that the whole world has mourned his passing away.
One thing is certain; Jim didn’t want any of us to be sad. He will be encouraging us, I am sure, and cheering us up now so that our views of the world and teaching in general don’t decline.
I have been attending Pilgrim courses for twenty years now. Many things have changed from the first time I came back in 1999, and they all have changed for the better. The level of enthusiasm and innovation has never declined and the thirst for knowledge is increasing year after year.
From the first time Jim became Pilgrim’s manager I realized he wasn’t an ordinary one. His skills at Leadership were beyond anything I’ve ever seen before. He motivated both teachers and trainers in a spectacular way. You never had the impression that you were talking to a Head of Studies when you talked to him. He was simply like one of us. Even more, his humility was astonishing and the way he admitted that we are all learners until the day we die was one of his mottos.
During all the time I’ve been coming to Pilgrims, Jim never stopped encouraging me to keep on coming, and usually at the end of each course he told me with the winking of his eye: “I will see you next year, Tony!”
The course I did last summer was “The Creative Teacher” and our trainer was Chaz Pugliese. It was my 18th course at Pilgrims (I have also come several times as a Teacher-Trainer for the afternoon and evening workshops). I had the wonderful feeling that I had to start from scratch in many ways because the teaching world is endless and there are always many different ways where you can improve. I was taught that by Jim!
If I had to take the “essence” of Jim’s attitude to life I would say it was his positive view of things.
Jim had always taught us, with no remorse or secrecy whatsoever, how he dealt with his long illness. He said that the secret for everything was your mindset. Your illness is not you; it is just a part of yourself. He told us how the negative thinking that everybody experience in their lives is the “script” or “racket”. It’s something that it’s not who you really are.
He made innumerable commentaries on social networks.
I remember especially how on Monday mornings I had a look on my Facebook and there was Jim already telling us how wonderful we were and that the negative feeling about the week ahead was just an intrusive thought and we couldn’t be disappointed or let down because of our negative thinking. This is what in Psychology is called “Cognitive Inflexibility”.
He said we could choose how we were going to feel. If we decided to feel miserable, then we would feel like that, but if we decided to be happy and joyful, then that would be our mindset for the rest of the week.
Everything is a matter of CHOICE.
I know his passing away has affected many people worldwide in so many different ways. My first feelings were anger and denial, but then I remembered how Jim once when I went through a very bad clinical depression, to a point when I considered giving up teaching, he was there to encourage me to carry on. And he succeeded! I’ve been a teacher and teacher-trainer for nearly 26 years now, and I have no intention of leaving the profession.
All I can say is THANK you so much, Jim. Thank you for having been the incredible human being you are.
Your words, teaching, laughter and positivity, will never be forgotten.
Good-bye my friend. God bless.
As he stood in the yard, next to the Mulberry Tree on Canterbury University Campus, listening to a course participant, Jim Wright was the very picture of energy and efficiency. His eyes sparkled; his lips smiled; his focus was on his interlocutor. Inside his head was the solution to the next problem, the next talk with one of his teacher trainers, the idea for another improvement. Besides a good deal more. He was the heart of Pilgrims on the Hilltop, for many years, and the face of Pilgrims for innumerable teachers from all over Europe and beyond. He had a kind word or a joke or a smile for all of us.
I met Jim the organiser, Jim the trouble-shooter, Jim the business partner, but also Jim the generous host, the holiday-maker, the gourmet. I admired his joie-de-vivre, which he made sure did not abandon him even when his health slowly did. I remember when we last met in person in my town in South Tyrol, Italy, when he enthusiastically praised and thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding mountains and the local food and wine. He was a person whose enthusiasm for things small and insignificant as well as things important and consequential was contagious. He was a person who inspired others and inspired trust. He brought out the best in those collaborating with him.
Buoyant, dynamic, witty Jim will live on in our memories.
Rosmarie de Monte Frick
I don’t know why
You trusted me before you even knew me,
But I thank you.
I don’t know why
You believed in me when I didn’t know what I was doing,
And I thank you for that too.
I don’t know why
You encouraged me to make a difference,
As soon as we met.
I don’t know how
You, personally, made this huge difference
I will not forget.
I don’t know how
You took everything seriously,
You are inspiring, seriously,
This is not an adieu.
I don’t know how…
You embraced ALL that life had to offer
You had wise words, and good banter
You could make conversations so light and deep
And of happiness, make us weep
You recognised every opportunity
You had much compassion, and no self-pity
You stayed honourable in your on-going struggle
For every one of us, you are a role model
We all loved your style and company
You casually did so much, for so many
You loved good food and goofing around
Guys like you are hard to be found
You will stay in our hearts
Multitalented in many parts
And a warm host, and a great cook
So let us all take a page from your book
For I know how
I will remember
And I know why
I will forever
On 16th November I was in Rome attending TESOL Rome, Italy, on behalf of Pilgrims. At some point, I felt all my energy was gone, a felt so empty, so sad… I just had to leave...
I took a stroll along Via del Corso where I felt strangely indifferent and detached. I had a bite of pizza - it tasted of nothing. I could not understand my despondent mood and feeling so dispirited by Rome … What was wrong with me?
I decided to just walk away from the crowds. I climbed the steps up the Capitol Hill, further and further away from the maddening crowd.
And then all of sudden I was all alone with this view from the Capitol Hill, seen through a delicate drizzle.
I was amazed and overpowered by the view. I was all alone. I started thinking of all the beautiful, unforgettable places I have visited having received a short mail from Jim, something along the lines of…
Given the title of the conference - do you think you'd like
to attend and submit a proposal?
Interested in doing these workshops? Your thing
Always just a few words, always to the point, and always getting the job done.
So there on the Capitol Hill I remembered the various places I had been to thanks to Pilgrims and above all thanks to Jim. I remembered the people I had met during these trips. Then I was thinking about the professional and personal impact Pilgrims, and Jim in particular, have had on me as a person and my life. I was also thinking how many things we, Jim and I, have recently successfully worked on, and our good working relationship and this very good and long chat we had at the end of the summer at Pilgrims.
Then I was remembering various precious moments, thinking of Jim fighting his disease and his will to live. I thought what a brave man he is, what a fighter and what a volcano of optimism. And then I started to cry. Like really cry. For no apparent reason it felt as if something had ended, as if there was an end of an era. I was very very sad and tearful.
The next day, in the afternoon when I was waiting to catch my connecting flight at Munich airport my phone rang. Magda Zamorska, my dear friend, a colleague and also a Pilgrims trainer, phoned me to share the sad news: Jim had died on 16th November. I was shocked… and hollow. An airport is the last place of all the possible places where you want to be told somebody close to you has died. You don’t want to cry… but in fact I was unable to shed a tear. Then I realised I had done all my crying the night before. I had been sad and mourning for Jim before the news of his death reached me; I just felt it in the air.
From now on, this beautiful sight from the Capitol Hill by night seen through the tiny drops of drizzle and my won tears will be my last memory of Jim. For me Jim is now somewhere up there with the Roman gods, goddesses and caesars. Jim, enjoy whatever you may be up to in their company … and thank you for having been such a pivotal figure in my life.
Kintsugi is a Japanese technique for repairing broken pottery with a precious golden glue. This technique holds together, celebrates and beautifies the imperfections of a pot.
Jim exemplified this in human form. Jim was that golden glue. He enabled Pilgrims to flourish. His values and beliefs shone through his words and actions.
Visiting Jim and Lizzie was always an occasion full of life-affirming joy. Thank you both for making time for people, ideas and love.
Jim, may the winds blow gently, the rivers flow sweetly and may you rest in peace and love.
I have known Jim for so many years and was lucky that he lived and worked near to IATEFL so that every now and then he would pop in, always with a smile and always with chocolates, just to say hello. It was so sad to hear that Jim passed away recently and I hope that Lizzie is getting all the support she can get.
With best wishes to you and all at Pilgrims!
Alison M Medland
Jim was the caring father of Pilgrims. He was the most inspirational man I have ever had the privilege of knowing. Reading his posts each and every day helped me in situations where I felt bad. On his Facebook page, in fact, he described himself with this sentence: “I like helping people feel better than they did before they met me.”
Many Turkish participants could not attend the courses they had already enrolled at Pilgrims due to the failed coup attempt in 2016. I will never forget what he wrote to those participants then:
“You are part of the Pilgrims family and families stick together in difficult times.” It meant more than a lot. Once you came to Pilgrims, you became a family member for Jim, and he always cared about you, which was one of the features that made him so special. That year, we established Pilgrims Turkey, and Jim was always very supportive about it.
I took a video of my son on Jim's last birthday and in the video my son said he loved Jim very much. Jim told me it was one of the best birthday gifts he'd ever had. We love you very much, Jim, and we miss you. Your Turkish family
Işıl, Erol, Egehan
(…) I have always read the magazine (HLT) with interest. But what I wanted to tell you now is that the new issue with the news about Jim Wright did me well, especially now that I am going through a terminal disease (pancreatic cancer). I read the interviews and identified with what Jim said about the right attitude to lead a happy life after learning about our problems. It is as if I have found how to put what I think into the right words. At the same time, his words and thoughts are very inspiring and helpful, especially at times when we feel lost and weak.
The good news is that I am very strong, I feel very well, treatments don't make me feel depressed, sick or weak, have lots of plans for the future, and that I am still myself, not my illness.
Thanks for sharing Jim's views on life. He must have been a wonderful person.
La morte mi trovera’ vivo (Death will find me alive).
In memory of my friend Jim.
Jim and I were very different animals, but we also had much in common: a love for food, for example. Unlike me though, he was more into cooking, and what a cook he was! I’m more into eating, nurturing a chronic aversion to spending time in the kitchen.
Music, however, was what made us bond: he once came to Paris, where I live, and since it was just a few days short of his birthday, I decided to surprise him and booked a studio for two hours, so the two of us could jam. Jim looked happy but told me he hadn’t been playing for a while and he was a little rusty, but I knew as soon as we started playing that he would let go. And let go he did. Jim had such powerful sense of groove, and his playing oozed energy and inventiveness.
On another occasion, we were running taster sessions for Pilgrims in Romania. We got to the venue early. We could hear a band playing in the basement (it was a high-school), so we decided to check it out: it was a bunch of school kids rehearsing for their show. We stood there listening for a few minutes, then we both got itchy and asked them if we could play. They reluctantly agreed. Jim took his jacket off, sat down, adjusted the kit to his liking. He then counted us off, I started a riff, and Jim drummed up a storm, hitting those cymbals like there was no tomorrow! His drumming was ferocious that day and it was really hard for me to keep up with him. His mentor and hero John Bonham (Led Zeppelin) would’ve been proud. As it was always the case with us, we didn’t play a particular song, we just played. The kids loved it and they didn’t want us to stop. I’ll never forget Jim’s mischievous smile on his face when we left, ‘Chaz, you realize they probably thought these two geezers couldn’t play… We taught them a real lesson…Well done!’
As it turned out, Jim taught me a few much more powerful lessons. Life dealt him a terrible hand, as we all know, but Jim never seemed to wither and he just steamrolled ahead. Jim was a real fighter. To those, like me, who expressed concern about his worsening condition, he would reply: ‘oh, don’t worry, I just get to enjoy the ocean a little more from my bedroom window, that’s all’. With a smile on his face. Jim ignored the meaning of self-pity.
La morte mi trovera’ vivo (death will find me alive), as someone said. What a fitting epitaph this would be for Jim.
It was late afternoon on Sunday 17 November. I was due to give an EFL online presentation along with another nine speakers, ten slides in ten minutes. It was supposed to start at 5pm Greek time, which I knew from my many visits to the TESOL Macedonia conference in Thessaloniki, was one hour ahead of the time in Rome, where I was based. I had had a good nap and a coffee, so was gradually waking up and as I went online, I saw the message on Facebook from Mark Cutmore, Jim’s nephew. The worst of my fears had come to pass, as Jim had slipped off to another world. With all the health problems he had been dealing with over the last few years, it was hardly a surprise, but still a shock when it happens and the sudden realisation that you will never again have that opportunity to exchange some banter with him.
I read the message, then in a daze, started reading other Facebook news as one does. All of a sudden, I received a message, “Where the hell are you?” from Rob Howard, the guy who alongside TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece had organised and was hosting the event. I looked at the time. It was 4.30pm. What was his problem? I wasn’t supposed to speak until 5.35pm, I had an hour to log in. An hour? Oh my God, it’s 4.30pm Italian time, that means it’s 5.30 Greek time! Shit! I sent a quick message apologising, so they could insert another speaker before me, while I logged in. Once I did what I had to do, I simply had to wait to be invited into the group. I waited and waited, but the invitation didn’t come. After a few more desperate messages between Rob and I, it transpired that I had entered via Mozilla Firefox and not Google Chrome. Sorry, another minor cock-up. I had originally asked to be one of the early speakers, so that I could get it over with, then relax and enjoy the other presentations. As it turned out, I ended up being one of the last, thanks to all these slip-ups, which I’m sure Jim would have been laughing at, if he were indeed watching over me!
As is the custom these days, when a dear person leaves us, the news is broadcast on Facebook. For all its pros and cons, this is definitely a big pro. Reading all the messages that friends, family and acquaintances leave, enables us to see this person from so many different perspectives, not only as we have known them. People involved with Pilgrims, sharing their experiences of him during their time spent there, whether as a trainer or a trainee, people who met him around the world at various conferences, that’s the part I know, but more interestingly, those who knew him as a child, those who grew up with him, who knew him socially, those who were close enough to him to see his pain, which he always managed to hide so well. Due to how much we rely on social media these days, it is easy to forget that there are still some people who either use it very little, or not at all. One of these is an old Pilgrims friend Manfred Hess, who at one time held the record for the highest number of teacher training courses attended at Pilgrims. While I was writing to him recently, it suddenly came to me that he may not even be aware of the terrible news, so I mentioned it and sure enough, he confirmed that he had absolutely no idea.
I first came across Jim at the beginning of the 21st century. I was teaching on the General English courses during the summer and he was introduced to me, as a manager in his new role. I can’t honestly remember exactly what that role was, just that he was an important point of reference. At that time, the General English courses and the Teacher Training courses were very close in terms of location. I used to attend many of the afternoon and evening workshops given by great trainers, instead of sitting in the resources room stressing myself out over what I was going to do the next day with my group of students.
By 2005, I had decided that it was worth my while investing both my time and my money in attending some of these one- and two-week courses, rather than simply turning up to a few sessions, here and there. This brought me into even greater contact with Jim and what I particularly remember was his generosity, not only towards me, but to anybody, whenever he could give them a discount on a course or even a free one, he would do so. In those days, there was a welcome party on the Sunday evening and a farewell party on the Friday evening. Jim was always there on the Sunday, making an opening speech, handing over the reins to the Director of Studies who would then take over, before making sure that anyone who wanted a glass of wine got one. And sure enough, he’d be around during the courses and at the end, as we all said our farewells, before dancing the night away.
I didn’t attend Pilgrims between 2011 and 2017, as both my parents were suffering ill health and I preferred to dedicate my summertime to them. When I came back, I saw the same witty, immaculately dressed Jim wandering around and keeping an eye on things, introducing people to Pilgrims by telling them to relax and have a good time. He mentioned to me more than once, that he was lucky to be alive and that he lived day by day, but I never really saw his suffering. If it wasn’t for his inspirational Facebook posts and his occasional absence from Pilgrims, it might have been difficult to believe. In June 2019, there was the 45th anniversary Pilgrims conference in Bratislava, Slovakia. He had been expected to attend of course, but at the last minute, he gave us the despairing news that he would not be able to go due to health issues. He did send us a great message though and we all sent him an excellent one back.
In the summer of 2019, I had intended to take three different summer courses at Pilgrims, however, a serious back problem which made sitting, standing and walking difficult meant I had to limit myself to just one. One of the courses that I had to cancel was a one-week Creative Writing with the great Mario Rinvolucri. Later during the summer, when I was having a beer with the great man, I asked him how his course had gone. He told me that it was a small compact group and that Jim had been one of the participants. He also confided that not only did Jim try to attend every minute of every session, he could easily have excused himself from time to time due to work obligations, but he fully committed himself to all the activities, including the ones that force you to open up your emotions and feelings. What a pity I hadn’t been able to attend! I know from participating in a two-week Creative Writing course which Mario gave back in 2007, that this is a course which really allows you to open up and share feelings, if of course, you wish to do so. During the summer, Jim was ever-present, discussing ideas with the owner on which direction Pilgrims should take in the foreseeable future, what with the Brexit situation and EU funding. He contributed as much as he could up to the last.
On 12 December 2019, a crucial day for the UK, we had elections, which would determine our future for many years to come. I was in Canterbury, as I had recently re-registered to vote. As well as standing in the pouring rain waiting to vote for a good half an hour, I treated myself to a film, After the Wedding. The story to be brief, is about a successful businesswoman who has cancer and discovers she has little time remaining. She manages to work things, so that a fund is created in the name of her husband’s ex-lover and her daughter to donate a huge amount of money to help kids in India, where the ex-lover worked. The daughter discovers that the ex-lover is in fact her “real mother” and the businesswoman keeps her illness a secret almost until the last. She appears to be strong, almost showing little sign of emotion, however, towards the end of the film when she is alone with her husband, her emotions finally come out, and she bursts into tears, screaming, “I don’t want to die”. This part reminded me of something Jim said. You don’t always need to show you are strong. Go and sit in a room and cry your eyes out for five minutes, then get back to things. This is an important message for all those who are suffering, there is nothing wrong with crying, showing your emotions from time to time. This idea was echoed recently by the great Serbian footballer, Siniša Mihajlović, famous for being a warrior but now suffering from leukaemia. He is currently manager of Bologna and when asked about his illness said he was fed up with crying over and over again.
Jim Wright has inspired many people from many different countries over the years. He is no longer with us in body, but as someone once said, “A person only dies when his memory is no longer alive among the living”. He is therefore still with us in spirit and will continue to be so for a long time. Jim Wright RIP
Travelling with Jim Wright
In working with other cultures I have always had a struggle in accepting what I found in them. I am choleric by temperament and this leaves me with little NATURAL flexibility. Travelling with Jim Wright was a complete eye-opener for me: in him I found a person who revelled in the newness of everything that came his way.
We were in Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and he hailed a taxi to take us on a 12 km trip- to a serious business meeting on the edge of town.
After a kilometre or two the driver swivelled round and said “ Me buy bread, eggs...” He pulled up outside a store and was gone. Ten minutes later he was back with a bag of groceries. He drove off the main road into backstreets. “ I take bread to sister....” he slowed down pointing at a woman on the pavement, “ she my sister”
While I was getting grumpy at us being driven off course I could feel that Jim was smiling and laughing and not wasting his time in resentment. For him that driver was a deeply human person and loved this sister. For the rest of the run we were with a real person who had allowed us to meet one of his family. Who cares about being spot on time for a dry meeting about money and sending kids on EFL courses in UK?
One of Jim’s great gifts was having kept his “ creative spontaneous child” fully alive and kicking within him.
Of all the different people Jim Wright was, I most miss the wide-eyed- wondering child. All the crappy UK “education” he was subjected to never managed to strangle this man’s creative openness.
Though I live near Canterbury, I have never been one of the inner circle of Pilgrims’ people. Nonetheless I have had many occasions over the past 15 years or so to work with Jim, and to get to know him reasonably well.
I came to appreciate him for his bounce and energy in everything he undertook. Recent years have not been easy for institutions like Pilgrims but Jim always seemed able to retain boundless optimism in the face of very real difficulties.
I always found him approachable, essentially kind - and generous to a fault. When we were setting up the C group, he spontaneously offered to help in many practical ways. And once he had given his word, it was his bond. You could rely on Jim.
What I most admired about him was the way he dealt with the debilitating condition which plagued him for so many years. Many, if not most, people would have given in to despair faced with the health issues he had to endure. Not so Jim. He remained cheerful and uncomplaining - his spirit unbroken. An example to us all.
I shall miss him greatly.
Sunrises and Sunsets
On this balcony you once stood with Lizzie Wojtkowska-Wright, me, and my family…
And you stared into the sunrise and sunset in North Cyprus, dear Jim Wright.
You were, and still are, as inspiring as these sunrises and sunsets to many.
You reminded us (and still do) that our lives are as fleeting as these sunrises and sunsets.
You told us to be the sunrise of others’ lives no matter what.
But you also reminded us not to feel bad if we sometimes ‘set like the sun’.
You assured us that each sunset is always followed by a sunrise.
You would have certainly added this, too:
‘There are sunrises and sunsets each day,
and they are absolutely free.
Do not ever miss them.’
Watch the sunrise and sunset wherever you are today (and the rest of your life),
and think of Jim.
And whether you have known Jim or not,
feel blessed that people like him have been/are a part of our lives
to remind us that we are still fully alive
and part of this life
as beautiful as sunrises and sunsets...
Thanks, Jim. Thanks.
Crossed out so many beginnings, this time I really don't know how to start... how do I go about writing a eulogy for someone who has always been around in my Pilgrims life? That's what Jim was: a steady point of reference, a rock. We'll never forget how kindly he welcomed the whole Zamorski vagabond wagon arriving for our first Pilgrims summer, back in 2004. And it continued for almost 16 years... What I really admired and loved was his uncanny ability of putting things into perspective with his 'nothing to worry about' and 'there, problem solved' attitude when the trainers' emotions ran high over some crisis...
Jim touched our lives both privately and professionally and I feel we have a task to do : to keep the Pilgrims family work. To keep the Pilgrims work ethos and enthusiasm which were so important for Jim, even in the worst moments of his terrible illness.
I'm no writer and perhaps what I wrote is inadequate and clumsy. But I do know that I will always remember Jim's fantastic sense of humour, the spark in his eyes, his positivity and yes, the scrumptious meals he cooked. Ah, and the great time we had when, quite unexpectedly, he visited Wrocław twice in 2018!
Till we meet again, Jim. All our family will really miss you.
Magda, Marian and Oleńka Zamorscy
Caring. Sharing. Giving. Gone.
Wish I had known him.
Jim Wright’s Legacy
It is quite extraordinary that my first and last encounter with Jim Wright occurred with the legendary Mario Rinvolucri. The first time I was introduced to both of them by my teacher Mojca Belak as a part-time student of English and a practising teacher of Slovenian in 2005 at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.
I was amused this summer at Pilgrims when Jim emphatically claimed that it was the beginning of our relationship with Pilgrims because I knew that he was absolutely right. It was in 2005 that I experienced Pilgrims transformational teacher training for the first time. Due to its powerful impact, it is difficult to explain, as one needs to “live it” to “believe it”. People create a unique atmosphere where everything seems possible in the EFL world of teaching and learning at Pilgrims. It is incredible how teachers from all over the world jell together in the most natural of ways!
It was 2013 when Jim himself took part in discussing the outcomes of our business course that I was attending at the time. I was impressed by his visionary streak and he appeared to me larger than life.
This summer was the first time that I talked to him face-to-face, when I was telling him about an amazing Sunday workshop with Mario. It appeared to me that he could find a common ground with people from all walks of life effortlessly. At the same time, one could not help but notice his proud posture, and for all the right reasons! He was wise enough to believe in and to promote what could work in the current school system that does not work, and that is the humanistic approach either for learners and teachers or for business people. Learner-centeredness is only a form in school nowadays, but it is a norm at Pilgrims in its most authentic of ways.
According to the richest Slovenian entrepreneur Iza Sia Login, contemporary leaders need to inspire their followers, and when it comes to Jim Wright, that is His Genuine Legacy. He did cross over, but only after he lovingly paved the way for us…
Jim and I go back a long way – even as I write that the present tense which came so naturally reminds me how hard it is to really register that he’s not still with us. I got the news of Jim’s death at the end of a day when I’d been working in the garden and not been online at all, so I heard about it from dozens of people before I came to a message from him which was, typically, positive, optimistic and cheerful. It was really hard to realise that after overcoming so many problems and setbacks with his health this was suddenly the last message.
Jim and I had a lot in common, not only being at the helm of two wonderful institutions involved in teacher education and language education, but also in how we came into ELT in the first place. What not many people know is that we both began as drivers, me for Bell on £10 per week in 1968 (fresh back from May ’68 in Paris) and Jim, some years later, at the age of 18, for Pilgrims. For both of us our first job was driving books to a summer course centre, followed by driving people. Jim then went on to spend more than 30 years driving people at Pilgrims, or, more accurately, inspiring them, leading them, taking them with him.
Jim was so good with people, partly because of the experience he gained on the road to the top at Pilgrims and the people he was able to learn from, and partly because he was quite simply one of the good guys, with his heart in the right place. We didn’t meet very often face to face – when we did it was usually at a conference or lobbying English UK or the British Council together – but we shared a lot of thinking with each other because we recognised kindred spirits, common values and the benefits of open collaboration. We both came from a time when it was normal to be good friends with the competition and while Pilgrims was serious competition for me and my teams, first for Bell and then for NILE, we and our organisations benefited hugely from the sharing that we did. We shared campaigns, we shared major teacher training projects, we ‘shared’ trainers (many have worked for both Pilgrims and NILE) and we passed on our ‘students’, teachers from all round the world, to each other. Jim would contact me to say he’d had an enquiry which he thought we could do better and we would do the same. We also shared problems, using each other as management consultants. And just as Pilgrims ‘pinched’ some of our best ideas for new teachers’ courses, so we did the same, while we unashamedly imitated the ‘Jim and Mario model’ of how to get business from countries all round the world by offering in their own countries ‘tasters’ of what teachers could get and then offering more back in the UK.
What I learned about Jim over the years was that he was straight and honourable and an incurable optimist, his optimism proving so important when he was faced with an illness that could have so easily been both depressing and limiting. Because I wasn’t one of the people who saw him daily, I don’t know if he always managed to be so cheerful and positive, but his posts on facebook were like a regular dose of sunshine for me, making me feel so many times that if he can smile with all he has to face, then none of my problems are of any real significance.
Jim would have been a success at anything he did involving people. The world of ELT was blessed in that he happened to go in that direction. He has left a mark on my life that I will always value, but he has touched the lives of so many in positive, lasting ways. His life was true to his own belief in the importance of trying to inspire. He was, and his memory and legacy remain, truly inspirational.
We need more Jim Wright's in this world.
Here some snapshots from my mind.
A chance meeting as Lizzie and Jim appeared over a Glasgow bridge.
Jim, cape and cane in hand, always a picture of sartorial elegance.
The sound of mischievous merriment from across the IATEFL publisher's exhibition hall.
The welcoming door of his office, always open.
His inspirational optimism and honesty, even in the face of adversity.
A fun chat in a local.
His bright, cheery smile to greet us all at the Hilltop in the mornings.
A true ambassador of the Pilgrim's ethos.
Goodbye, kind Jim.
We’re fortunate to have had you enrich our lives.
I first met Jim Wright at IATEFL Manchester 2015. I was at the Pilgrims stand with some colleagues and could see how genuinely friendly and kind he was with everyone around. It was impossible to pass by Pilgrims and not to be happy when Jim was there. We didn’t start talking till we met again at the C Group meeting a few days later. Since then, we started having conversations via email and Skype – and Jim was always the same: kind, considerate, friendly, happy, above all, always wanting to make others feel well about themselves, even when he himself was feeling under the weather.
At IATEFL 2018, he and Lizzie invited me to come to Canterbury and know more about what they did there in order to found Pilgrims Brazil. What was special about Pilgrims Teacher Training? I could say it was the trainers and quality of courses, no doubt about it, but Jim was the man behind it all. He was responsible for making Pilgrims a special place to be with his unique character, positivity, enthusiasm, joyfulness and uttermost dedication. I came back in July 2019, when his health condition was visibly worse, but he was the same lovely person I’d met a few years before.
The last conversation I had with Jim was via Skype. We needed to discuss some last-minute issues about the launch of Pilgrims Brazil and the only time we could do it was when he was at the hospital in one of his haemodialysis sessions. He was extremely unwell, but always positive and happy, and on that day, especially because of the idea of finally launching Pilgrims Brazil – an old dream of his.
People who met Jim or read his words every day on Facebook will all miss Jim deeply, but his positive energy and uplifting words will always echo in our hearts.
Shine on, dear Jim! Pilgrims Brazil will shine for you.
“Life is a fragile thing. At one moment, we are here; at the very next, everything that we think and everything that we are and everything that we decide that we can be can leave us. Enjoy every moment of your journey.”
Jim Wright – Thanks for the inspiration
Tribute to Jim Wright
“You don’t need the sun to smile on the inside… We shine from inside out”, wrote Jim in one of his daily inspirational messages on his Facebook page. These few words encapsulate for me something essential about Jim; the less power he could absorb and use from the outside world for his physical existence, the more inner strength he radiated into the world around him. The less he had, the more he gave. As I knew Jim, the world for him meant people; colleagues and friends whom he supported and whom he not only wished to, but did “make feel good about themselves”.
I first met Jim at the Pilgrims exhibitor stand at the TESOL France Colloquium in Paris and I was enchanted by his joyful, friendly attitude, light but sincere communication, his elegant and charming style. I was relatively new in the ELT conference world and he immediately opened a door for me by connecting me with Chaz Pugliese for a creativity workshop I had in mind for our local teacher group in Grenoble. It was a purely professional situation, with an immediate solution. What impressed me was the simplicity of Jim’s approach. We often heard him say in interviews, messages and in conversations that real value lies in simple things. How true it is! Jim has often been described as a visionary business leader. He found new ways probably thanks to his ability of seeing the invisible, understanding that valuable things in life are simple, thereby problems must have simple solutions, which he found and relentlessly offered to others even in complex life situations.
Hundreds of teachers left the Pilgrims teacher training courses with Jim’s voice resonating the simplest sounding piece of advice, “Relax, relax and relax!” By relaxing, one takes a distance from their ordinary condition creating space for a new “me”. I had this refreshing, positive feeling of a new “me” each time I met Jim, had a conversation with him or just by knowing that I could count on him and his support to the smallest details. He opened new doors for many of us in the teaching profession, for which I am grateful.
As his health issues took up more and more space and time in his life, he miraculously mastered a skill that we should all learn from; be who we really are. He detached himself from his physical condition and “shined from inside out”, bringing light to many people’s lives through sharing abundantly the wisdom of simple things that make us human, the most essential among all being love. Jim shined through his love and weaved a worldwide community of like-hearted people. The Pilgrims ethos of placing the human at the centre of teaching and learning could never find a finer example than Jim and the way he helped us stay or become who we are. On days when I feel down, I can hear his voice saying, “Life is beautiful, just live it, don’t think about it. It’s rather simple.”
We lose the physical presence of people we love, they change form in our lives, but we don’t lose the real person. As Jim once told me, “you just have to learn to have a new relationship with the person you lost.” I’m working on my new relationship with you Jim and have lovely chats in my mind with you. I miss you, but I am grateful that I was among the lucky ones who knew you. You will always be in my heart.
God bless you Jim!
A tribute to Jim Wright
I can’t say I knew Jim Wright really well. The few occasions I saw him or heard him speak were usually at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Pilgrims summer courses at the University of Kent campus. But this dapper little man, often dressed in a neat black suit and always with a waistcoat, was someone I won’t forget.
I remember him for his cheery smile, his kind words and warm welcome to all and sundry. He would sometimes appear with one or two of his team during my courses with the inimitable Peter Dyer, whose theatre workshops were a source of delight. Happy days and evenings trudging across that vast campus site.
For a reason I can’t really explain the place won’t be the same without Jim.
We knew he had been ill for a long time but the smile was always there.
He will be sadly missed.
God bless you Jim
It is sometimes difficult to know what to say when we have to say goodbye to someone, but I believe it is not goodbye but see you later.
Jim was a great example of someone who was open to people sharing and learning. Those he encountered remember him. For this I will remember him.
He was a celebration of living and sharing.
The sad news of Jim’s death found me totally unprepared. Being a long-time Pilgrims trainer, naturally I had known about his illness and followed updates on his Facebook page. Though, with his spirit and ability to fight one health battle after the other and get out of them strengthened and wiser, his passing so soon was somehow unimaginable. In Jim, we’ve lost a dear, great soul, a quintessentially good guy and the least bossy boss ever.
Jim for me is the best boss of a lifetime. Jim had great trust in what we, trainers do, so I had this incredible professional freedom, where I was challenged to do my best, and allowed to do it my own way. I can’t remember a single instance when he told me what to do. He asked and suggested. And most importantly for me: he offered. I can measure my professional development in the courses I got under his leadership: large classes, secondary, creative methodology, music and art, CLIL, creative methodology for ICT. During the years I had the pleasure of working with him, I watched how he - from someone serving the Pilgrims spirit - became the Pilgrims spirit himself: people come first.
How could he be a boss like that? I suppose because his persona as a boss wasn’t different from the person he really was: this great guy, who will understand you, will have your back, will appreciate you for who you are, who will remind you what is good in anything that happens, and who is lovely company to spend time with. Whose strength and spirit has helped and will continue to help many in the inevitably occurring hard times of life. Even thinking of him makes one stronger and more grateful for life.
Jim Wright was what you would call a good bloke. This can be an overused expression, but in Jim’s case it was an appropriate label, he oozed good blokeness (if that is the abstract noun), whether it was the warm way he greeted you, or when he was buying you a drink in the Neptune(his local pub in Whitstable). He was the same person to everyone he met.
Pilgrims was the perfect job for Jim because he was the living embodiment of what Pilgrims stands for. If Mario Rinvolucri is the inspiration of Pilgrims then Jim was the beating heart.
I can’t remember exactly when I first met Jim, I think it was probably in the late 1990’s when Jim was in IT and Judy Baker was Director of Studies. Judy was in a panic because all the IT had crashed. Jim was calm and smiling. He defused the tension and then solved the problem. As MD he would employ the same methods in a different context. I got to know, respect and love Jim, first as a colleague, then a leader and as a wonderful person.
He would welcome everyone who arrived with the same cheerfulness and humour, inviting new arrivals to the teacher training to” relax, ask questions and relax”. This lightness was deliberate because he knew that you learnt best when you were most at ease. He saw that the value of Pilgrim’s training was not the knowledge gained but the difference it made to your life. Another thing he encouraged was to make connections with the people you meet at Pilgrims (some of whom become lifelong friends). It was Jim who talked of Pilgrims’ as a family and acted as if everyone who came to Pilgrims was part of his own family. This meant, whatever your disagreements and differences of opinion, the relationship was never up for grabs.
Jim was a humanist who believed that people are fundamentally individuals who have unlimited potential. He said this in many ways one of the most concise was contained in his poem (read at his funeral):
The world needs you and not your negative opinion of you! You're perfect as you are!”
This is in line with the humanistic tradition that “the soul grows more by subtraction than addition” (Henry David Thoreau) or like Michelangelo who saw his famous sculpture of David locked in the marble and all that was necessary was to chip away the excess stone. The excess stone, in Jim’s view, was the unnecessary limits placed on our own potential. He saw the Educator’s job as to strip away the accumulated baggage of life to reveal this perfection. This vision was gently applied to Pilgrim’s Teacher Training and to the Language Coaching area of Pilgrims -the Confident Communicator led by Kevin Batchelor.
Jim was authentic.
He was totally real, with little pretence or self- importance. What you saw is what you got. His lack of ego, in some cases, may have led to an underestimation of his shrewdness and ability to learn. Jim was open to everything as evidenced by one of his favourite quotes from Frank Zappa:
“A mind is like a parachute- no good unless it is open”.
He was frank with his illness and the struggles he had. I was in awe of what he had to endure to function. An example was when we were both at IATEFL in Liverpool in April. He had to check into the A+E ward of Liverpool hospital to receive overnight dialysis. The next day, sleep shy, he manned the Pilgrims stand with Lizzie as usual. He spoke about his experience overnight as if he had gone for a haircut. His focus was on how lucky he was to have the treatment and the patience of the nurses. This is not to say he did not have difficulties and he spoke very eloquently about the challenges he faced due to his illness. What I noticed was his courage and lack of self -pity and his ability to give to others when he was probably feeling absolutely sh**. He was the first to put his hand up to help and support you. This summer when I had a personal difficulty, he sorted out cover just like that. Many other organisations or leaders would not have been so sincere or true. This is not to say he would suffer unprofessionalism or lead swinging but as a leader he gave you total trust.
Another aspect of his authenticity was his creativity (a key Pilgrims value) and this was most often shown by his sense of humour. I am convinced that Jim could have been a professional stand-up. He had the ability to see someone’s character and the funny side of someone’s personality. This humour was never cruel but insightful. If anyone had heard Jim describe some of the people that he knew in Whitstable, particularly in the Neptune, you would know exactly what I mean. As Lizzie said at Jim’s funeral Jim had a way with words, he could say the most complex things in a lean, simple way. He was the ultimate confident communicator and had natural authority, he lit up a room with his knack of saying the right thing.
Jim was a source of great ideas. For example, the app to build the Pilgrims community, the new courses such as environmental awareness and 21st century skills and his vision of a different teacher training process to name but three recent ones. He was always thinking ahead and had developed tremendous insight around what was needed in Education. His early death is an immense loss to the wider Educational Community.
For him, personal relationships were everything and he honoured the individual through kindness and attention. Everyone who met him was better for the experience.
So what is his legacy? As a model of a truly human, human, we will gain if we follow his example. This means building, kind, creative relationships without pretence to reveal the potential of our students and ourselves.
Part of me is still angry that Jim died so young but, on the other hand, I was very glad to have spent time with him and wish I could spend more. His influence on a generation of teachers and people will ripple long into the future. In my life he has made a difference and will continue to be an inspiration. His words are on my wall and more importantly in my heart and my life, my friends and family and courses will be better for my knowing him. Cheers Jim.
Remembering Jim Wright, Principal of Pilgrims
The Simon Greenall Award