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Fred Sessa (Staff 1960-1986)
04 November 2023
Based on an obituary by his family from the Wennington School website https://wenningtonschool.org.uk/index.php/people/tributes/256-fred-sessa

We were sad to hear of the death of Fred Sessa on 8th March 2023 and our condolences go to his children, who were very much part of Friends’ School. Fred taught English and sport with an American relish, and was also in charge of the Boy’s boarding house. He was respected and loved by many for his kindness and good humour.

Alfred Morehouse Sessa was born in Darien, Connecticut on the 8th of May 1935. His mother's lineage was old New England, his father’s Italian immigrant. He lived with his parents and two brothers, Bruce and Gary, in a house built by his great-grandfather Morehouse.

Educated initially at Darien High School and then The Gunnery, he went on to study English Literature at Colgate University. It was at Colgate that his lifelong belief in equality was formed. Troubled that some privileges were available only to white members of his Fraternity, Fred approached the big-wigs and questioned the injustice. When they refused to act, he promptly resigned.

After university, Fred attended a seminary in New York City where he was ordained as a Congregationalist minister. This was the racially-turbulent 1960’s and he found himself at the forefront of the civil rights movement. Living in Harlem, his activism resulted in arrest on more than one occasion and he was present at the ‘March On Washington’ in 1963 where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous ‘I have a dream’ speech.

He took up his first teaching position at a Quaker school, Westtown, in Pennsylvania and was fortuitously offered a year’s exchange at Friends’ School, Saffron Walden in the UK. He confided in a family member that the opportunity to visit the land of his favourite works of English literature was a privilege he greatly valued.

Fred met his future step-children, Carola (YG 1971), Anthea (YG 1971) and Stephen (YG 1973), and in time their mother, Erica Pitcher, a young widow with another daughter, Miranda (YG 1976). He returned to the United States at the end of his allotted year to tidy up his own affairs then forthwith back to Saffron Walden where he married Erica on the 30th June 1968. Relocating to a new country to take on an already established family was a daunting task indeed but one Fred relished. He adored Erica and built strong, loving relationships with all his step children that endure today.

Hepzibah, named by Fred and meaning ‘my delight is in her’, was born in November 1969 and such was Fred’s excitement that he ran around the school writing ‘Hepzibah Marie Sessa’ on every blackboard he could find. 1972 saw the birth of a son in a March blizzard. Fred’s humour was ever-present and as the story goes, he wanted to name his son ‘Horse’ after his best friend at school. Erica countered and said that if the baby was a girl, she’d call her ‘Pony’. Sanity prevailed and they decided on Benjamin St John Sessa: ‘Benjamin’ meaning ‘Last of the tribe’ and the ‘St John’ a tribute to Fred’s grandfather Harold St John Morehouse.

The family left Essex in 1973 and relocated to Yorkshire where there then followed a short Headship at Wennington School near Wetherby. Experimental in style, the school was fighting to survive, the challenges significant and it was eventually closed down.

By 1975 they were heading northwards once more and Fred became Headmaster of Friends’ School, Great Ayton, situated at the foot of the North Yorkshire moors. Set in 70 acres with the River Leven slipping lazily through the grounds, it was an idyllic place to live and Fred stamped his personality on the school. Those pupils who were boarders will surely remember his popular summer evening softball games on bottom field.

His years at Ayton were some of Fred‘s happiest. He loved Northern England and it was here he discovered another of his great loves: Golf! He joined a club in the aptly-named town of Saltburn-on-Sea, a wind-swept ‘links’ course and as often as possible battled the elements to tackle its most infamous hole: a treacherous gorse-lined fairway known colloquially as ‘the dreaded 12th’.

After almost 25 years in boarding schools, it was time for a significant change. Fred, Erica and the two youngest (who were now teenagers), moved south to be nearer their older children and opened a delicatessen in Abingdon, a few miles from Oxford. ‘Morehouse and Bond’ - Fred’s middle and Erica’s maiden name - had the ring of a long-established emporium. Riding the wave of the 1980’s ‘foody’ revolution with artisan cheeses, freshly ground coffee beans and epicurean delights, it was a great success.

Fred joined a new golf club, Tadmarton and indulged his passion for MG cars, owning a variety of classics. Driving up through the English countryside to play a round at ‘Taddy’ was one of the great joys of his life and though he was a confirmed teetotaller, Fred could be found in the bar with his many friends telling risqué jokes. He remained a treasured member of the club for the next 37 years and when notified of his death, they issued a heartfelt obituary and lowered the clubhouse flag to half-mast in honour of a much-respected member.

By 1990 the youngest kids had flown the nest, the business was sold and they were on the move again, this time to the market town of Bicester. Fred returned to teaching and took up an English Literature post at Aylesbury Grammar School until his retirement in 2000 when they upped-sticks for the final time and settled in the village of Bloxham near Banbury. The ‘Tudor house with the plastic windows’ - as described by Erica - wasn’t their usual period property but a modern house chosen because it was adjacent to a large playing field.
The house rang out with the sound of grandchildren and the family indulged their love of epic softball games.

Erica continued with her art and music and transformed the plain, lawned garden into a magical space; They filled the house with paintings and antiques and were members of the local history association; Fred became an Elder at Sibford Friends’ Meeting and a Governor at the connected Quaker school. They made trips to see old friends in the US and also travelled to India and New Zealand.
But sadly by 2015 Erica was starting to slide into dementia. Fred looked after her heroically but she was eventually placed in Green Pastures nursing home in Banbury. The family visited religiously but it was a slow and sad end to the life of a remarkable woman. She finally died in November 2021.

Following her death, Fred started to decline and was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the treatment causing him continual discomfort. His mobility was compromised so he could no longer play golf and he had to give up his much-loved car, relying on the kindness of friends to drive him to Sunday meeting. The family rallied round and moved him into a spacious flat in nearby Chipping Norton but after a series of ambulance callouts in early 2023, Fred ended up in hospital and eventually took up residence himself at Green Pastures.

Unlike Erica, his time there was blessedly brief and when he died peacefully on the evening of the 8th March 2023, family members were with him. Fred is buried in the same grave as his beloved wife in the beautiful garden of Sibford Friends’ Meeting House amongst the rolling Cotswold hills.

Throughout all these geographical and work-related changes, there was one constant in Fred’s life: his Quakerism and pacifist beliefs. He loved the silent ‘meeting for worship’ being a staunchly non-confrontational man who wasn’t prone to religious over-exuberance and outward protestations of faith. The Quaker message defined his spiritual experience and he lived by his word, in peace and quietness.

Fred Sessa: “A classless, fair and free-thinking man who never pushed his ideals or beliefs onto others but was absolutely prepared to stand up and be counted.

A man who was not afraid to make changes, take on new challenges and be an outsider. A serious man happy to play the clown.”
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