MEDOWIE Christian School science teacher Andrew Ratcliffe has been remembered as a selfless father, talented musician, man of deep faith and revered educator, passionate about unlocking his students' potential.
English-born Mr Ratcliffe - who previously taught at Hunter Christian School and Hunter Valley Grammar School - passed away aged 50 on July 3, two weeks after receiving a diagnosis of stage four stomach cancer that had also spread to his liver.
Medowie Christian School principal Simon Herd said the father-of-four's sudden passing had reverberated across the school and suburb.
The school has put support mechanisms in place around the family, students and staff.
"It's certainly left a big hole in the community," Mr Herd said.
"His chemistry class is sitting their Higher School Certificate in just over three months' time... and he had them 18 periods a fortnight, so that senior class he knows intimately well and they had a very close relationship.
"As with most teenagers they never really consider mortality until it's in front of their eyes, so it rocks them in that sense.
"One of Andrew's sons is currently doing the HSC, so for the peer group there it's the double whammy of losing a teacher, but probably more so feeling the pain of their mate."
Mr Herd said Mr Ratcliffe's rapport with students meant many he'd taught science in years seven to 10 chose chemistry or physics for the HSC.
"He helped them develop a passion and enthusiasm and an understanding that science was something they were capable of doing," he said.
"The students that would sometimes struggle in an academic environment, Andrew would first connect with them as a person and then start to bring out that inner spark within them through the subject."
Head of Secondary Daniel Weeks said Mr Ratcliffe was like a father to some students and "would always have eyes for what they could become", as well as how he could help "plug holes in their learning".
"He wasn't going to take any nonsense... he would see past that and call them on that and the increased accountability he afforded students was something that was really beneficial."
Mr Herd said Mr Ratcliffe enjoyed working as a HSC marker and mentoring his colleagues.
"He would always share his success stories and his challenges so they wouldn't necessarily have to step through those," he said.
"That's why we're in a solid position with the staff continuing to take his classes on, particularly for the HSC kids, because Andrew invested into those relationships with those staff."
Mr Herd said Mr Ratcliffe was first and foremost a family man.
His wife Louisa, a primary teacher at the school, said he was highly organised at home, a loving husband and extremely proud of their children, Sam, 24, Elizabeth, 22, Ethan, 17, and Anna, 15.
"They loved watching the old movies together," she said.
"When we found out the diagnosis, he said 'How am I going to tell the kids'. He was always thinking of the kids."
The couple were introduced by Mrs Ratcliffe's father, married in October 1994, had two children and arrived in Australia on a three-month working visa on October 3, 1999.
He worked at Hunter Christian School and they had another two children.
The family became Australian citizens on Australia Day in 2006.
"Whenever he would land at Sydney Airport he would say 'This is my home'," she said. "He just loved this country."
Mr Ratcliffe worked at Hunter Valley Grammar from May 2011 and started work at Medowie in 2012.
She said he would speak at Overflow Church at Medowie and also ministered to smaller churches in surrounding communities.
"God changed him as a person and he was committed to the transformation of our hearts to be more like Jesus," she said.
"He felt that if you react to something in a certain way, if you react with anger or bitterness, he would ask of God 'What is it that triggered it?' And I think that's why he was so good with teenagers."
She said Mr Ratcliffe would often receive letters of gratitude from students, "thanking him for his guidance if they didn't understand something that was going on in their lives".
"He did have a way of making things clearer to everybody, whether it was chemistry, or spiritual stuff," she said.
"That was his calling - the most important thing was the actual relationship to the kids. Chemistry, physics, they were important of course, but the most important thing was the actual relationship with the kids."
Mr Ratcliffe was also a Liverpool FC fan and relished serving others, becoming instrumental in organising the Rotary Medowie Christmas Carols.
He was a baritone who taught himself to play the guitar.
"He was singing to the nurses in the ICU," she said. "They don't get many singing patients in there."
Mrs Ratcliffe said her husband hadn't been feeling well since the start of term two and was quiet during his 50th birthday on May 16.
At the end, she said, he was at peace and not in pain.
"The fact that he was singing in the ICU, we really knew the peace of God and, as horrible as it was and as sad as we are, it was almost tangible," she said. "He was ready."
Mr Ratcliffe was farewelled at a private family funeral on July 13, before a larger memorial service at the school.
It is planning to introduce an award in his honour.
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