Paul Van-Tam

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Paul Nguyen Van-Tam

Paul Van-Tam
Nicknames Tojo
Born 31 August 1935(1935-08-31)
Died 21 May 2015(2015-05-21) (aged 79)
Education University of Nottingham (BSc 1967)
Years at BGS 1970-December 1980, and as a supply teacher in the 1990s and early 2000s
Departments Mathematics; Physics
Subjects Mathematics; Physics
Known for "Tea parties" (his own system of detention), Tuck Shop
Notable work(s) Leader of CCF naval section, second in command CCF, later leading the CCF
Spouse Elizabeth Thompson
Children Jonathan Stafford Nguyen Van-Tam, Dominic Nguyen Van-Tam, Monica
Parents Nguyễn Văn Tâm (father)
Relatives Nguyễn Văn Hinh (brother); L Thompson (father-in-law)

Paul Nguyen Van-Tam was a teacher of mathematics and physics at Boston Grammar School (1970-December 1980, returning later as a supply teacher into the 2000s).

Paul Van-Tam in 1964

Before BGS

Paul was educated at primary level in South Vietnam before moving to France where he completed his secondary and higher education. He became pen-friend with Elizabeth Thompson, daughter of Mrs and Mr L Thompson of Boston and started to visit her around 1957. By 1964 Paul and Elizabeth were married and had a son Jonathan. They were living with Elizabeth's parents in Church Green Road, Fishtoft, near Boston. Paul was teaching mathematics and games at Kitwood Boys School while Elizabeth taught at Butterwick School. His intention was to become a college lecturer but he couldn't do that without a British qualification and so he studied for a BSc at University of Nottingham and received it in 1967.

His main interests in sport were football (he once played for a team in Paris), sailing and physical culture. During his first visits to Boston before he moved there permanently, he became an "enthusiastic spectator" at Boston United matches.

He developed a method of teaching at Kitwood Boys School: "I try to make lessons a competition, so that one set of boys is trying to beat another. This way they are interested in what I am saying about mathematics without knowing that they are learning. They look upon it as a game, and it keeps their attention on the subject." He considered his time at Kitwood Boys School as a learning experience with the boys teaching him colloquial English while he taught them mathematics.


The cover of the 1972 issue of the Bostonian magazine showing Paul Van-Tam holding the presentation cheque for the sponsored swim

Paul Van-Tam taught mathematics and physics at Boston Grammar School. He was known for being keen on discipline but many of his former students are pleased with how he turned them on to mathematics. Part of his disciplinary approach was to implement his own system of detention which he called "tea parties".

On Saturday, 7 July 1973 students took part in a sponsored swim in aid of an orphanage in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) which Van-Tam supported and from which he had adopted a child. Construction of the orphanage had been delayed for want of money.

A total of 3.267 lengths of the school Swimming pool were completed and a cheque was presented to the headmaster during assembly. The final total, with the support of many local firms, was £490.

Van-Tam drew up extensive lists of swimmers and officials for the event.


Paul Nguyen Van-Tam, former teacher of mathematics and physics at Boston Grammar School, died on 21 May 2015.

Paul, a French citizen by birth, gained his BSc at the University of Nottingham. His father, Nguyễn Văn Tâm was Prime Minister of the State of Vietnam in 1952/3. His brother, Nguyễn Văn Hinh, who died in 2004, was appointed the Vietnamese National Army Chief of Staff by Emperor Bảo Đại.

He taught at Kitwood Boys School, Boston, and Carre's Grammar School, Sleaford before arriving at BGS. He took charge of the Naval section of the CCF (the school's Combined Cadet Force) and, on the death of Norman Haworth, took overall charge of the CCF.

In 1979* he left BGS to take up the post of Senior Mathematics Master at the City School, Lincoln, though he later returned to BGS as a supply teacher in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Paul leaves two sons and a daughter. His sons both attended BGS: Jonathan Stafford Nguyen Van-Tam and Dominic Nguyen Van-Tam. Jonathan is Professor of Health Protection at the University of Nottingham and Dominic is Manager Pharmacovigilance Data Reporting & Analysis at GSK.

While Paul was a firm master, tending towards strictness, he seems to have been well respected by many of his students, and is reported to have made mathematics "click" for several who were otherwise uninspired by the subject.

* While Floreat Bostona gives his year of leaving as 1979, it seems to have been 1980, as suggested by the report on the CCF Royal Naval Section in the 1980 issue of the Bostonian.

See Also