David Whitebread wore many hats, touched many lives, and made contributions well beyond academia. He was a ‘teacher of teachers’, a well-loved postgraduate supervisor, a prolific researcher and writer, an international educational consultant, and a strong advocate of children’s right to learn through play. This is a tribute to David’s professional trajectory – and particularly to him as a caring supervisor and playful researcher – from some of us who were incredibly fortunate to complete our graduate degrees under his guidance. In the weeks after his passing on 13 April 2021 most of his students came together to share photos, experiences, and to organise initiatives that will sustain David’s legacy past our own trajectories in academia. It was his caring and playful disposition that allowed unparalleled richness and intimacy in the relationships that David formed with us.