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News > Obituaries > Obituary John Blissett (OI 1966-73)

Obituary John Blissett (OI 1966-73)

We regret to inform you that we have been advised of the death of John Blissett who was at Ipswich School from 1966 to 1973 and died on the 8th January 2023.
13 Jan 2023
Written by Leanne Castle

John will be sadly missed by his family, friends and all who knew him at the school.

We are conscious that some people from his time at school may not be in contact with us and we would ask if you could pass on this information to those that you know.

As is the usual practice, we would like to place an obituary for him in the 2023 OI Journal and would be very grateful for any stories or memories you may wish to share which we could put together for the publication. Please address any contributions to me through

With best wishes,

Iain Chesterman

OI Chairman


Many OIs will have lived longer lives than John Blissett but few will have lived a fuller life than he did. John was born and brought up in East Africa, where his father pursued an interest in all wildlife (but with a particular interest in snakes), a passion John shared and never lost. Having attended primary school in Nairobi, John came to Ipswich School as a boarder in 1966. It took him a little while to adjust to the climate and culture of life in England, but once he had done so he went on to make the most of the opportunities presented to him.

Perhaps uncharacteristically John sang in the Chapel Choir and performed in the School play, but his strengths were far more apparent when outdoors. He was a member of the School scout troop and a leading light at various summer camps, none more so than a very wet week in north Wales where he brought all his bushcraft to bear in being able to light a fire in a sodden fire pit in the pouring rain and howling wind. In sport, as in life, John was fearless and tenacious. He captained the School athletics team and was the only one brave enough to compete at pole vault, for which he had the perfect physique and psyche, but it was on the rugby pitch that he excelled. He was a ferociously competitive hooker in the 1st XV, always leading from the front, always willing to put his head where others would fear to put their feet.

On leaving Ipswich School John went to Newcastle University to study zoology, the subject so dear to his heart after his upbringing in Kenya. While at university he joined Gosforth Rugby Club, then the most successful club side in the country. He played many games for the first team, being part of the side that reached the John Player cup final in the season 1980/81. He also played at Twickenham for Northumberland when they won the County Championship. Those that played with him at that level describe his qualities in the same terms as he is remembered at school; never the biggest physically, but never out-competed. Indomitable.

After university John made his home in Northumberland and pursued a career in IT. Those that knew him well may have wondered where he gained the expertise, but it was the early days and he clearly had real expertise as he became IT director for a leading international chemical company. But conventional employment was never John’s thing. His lifelong passion was wildlife, especially the wildlife of Africa.

In the 1980s, with support of a friend, he set up Willetts Safari Company. He gradually increased the amount of time that he was able to devote to this business, such that for the past twenty years he spent half the year leading trips around the remote parts of Kenya. These were no luxury safaris; they were just what you would expect from John. Every trip was an adventure, no frills but instead an opportunity to see the most remote parts of the country and wildlife as it should be seen, with respect for the people, the animals and the country. He forged strong and supportive relationships with local people who seemed to treat him as one of their own. He was never happier than sitting behind the wheel of his Land Cruiser, the more so if there was a danger of getting stuck in the mud, or the prospect of having to cross a swollen river or negotiate a herd of irritated elephants.. Once again nothing daunted him. He relished the challenge.

Nothing better epitomises John than the last year of his life. Having been given a prognosis of twelve months John immediately set about arranging his itinerary for the year. It began with a skiing trip with his family followed by a safari for old friends, at the end of which his family joined him for a further safari. He and his wife Gill then made a trip across Canada and on return he led a ‘safari’ to Albania, a place he knew from consultancy work with the World Bank. Further safaris in Kenya followed before he returned home to Northumberland where he was able to spend Christmas with Gill and their two daughters, Anne and Claire and his grandchildren, Alice and Harry.

John died on 8 January 2023, two weeks short of his 68th birthday, His life was too short, but was lived to the full doing those things he was passionate about.

Nigel Farthing (OI 1966-73)


For a while I played in the School's 2nd XV Rugby, in the second row of the scrum. John played in the front row, as hooker. His physical courage was astounding. He played with an apparent complete lack of concern for his own wellbeing, or, looked at another way, with absolute commitment to his team's interests. In consequence he would not infrequently have to be helped, or even carried, off injured. There were no head injury assessments in those days of course, nor substitutions - so you needed your player back on the pitch as soon as possible. Needless to say, John was usually back on the field within five minutes or so, insisting that he was fine to continue.

He brought similar determination to bear in the summer, to athletics. He was the only one of us who had any success at the pole vault. In fact, he was pretty much the only one prepared to have a go at it at all. I can't say that the pole we used (the only one we had) definitely was originally meant for scaffolding, but it certainly seemed like it. John was the only one who was prepared to run, with it held out in front of him, as fast as he could down the runway, plant it in the box and then use it to lever himself over the bar, feet first - the rest of us just didn't have the nerve, or perhaps managed just a foot or so as a token vault. Doing what he did required appreciable strength and athleticism but mainly, once again, fearlessness. And if you don't believe that, try it..

Nick O'Loughlin (OI 1970-75)

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I was sad to hear about John Blissett. I played rugby with him in various teams at school. I didn’t know him well but the kamikaze approach to the game does ring bells.

Chris Hyde (OI 1968-74)


I played some rugby with "front row nutter" John and he was a good man to have on your side

Winning both the Ipswich and Holt 7's' with him sticks in the mind- RIP

Stuart Palmer (OI 1967-74)

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