JEAN Town, who shaped the future of thousands of children as headmistress of Queen Ethelburga’s School, Harrogate, has died aged 82.
As well as teaching, she was a church youth co-ordinator, a wife, a mother and a grandmother. Seeing children grow, develop, learn and question was what drove her both professionally and personally.
Born as Jean Mary Bankcroft in Keighley on November 1, 1929, her father was an accountant at a local mill. She was a diligent and bright pupil and went on to Oxford University where she became an athlete and excellent rower.
In her early 20s she met and married Arthur Town and they went on to have four sons: John, Stephen, Andrew and Simon. She went on to become grandmother to Katie, Stephen, Joss, Laura, Christopher and Sampson.
When her youngest son went to school, Mrs Town became a Maths teacher and loved sharing her numerical knowledge with her pupils. In 1966, she joined the staff of the independent school Queen Ethelburga’s, which in those days was spread out over a quarter of a mile along Pennypot Lane in Harrogate. Then the school was home exclusively to girls and was owned by the Woodard Society.
Over the years the grandeur of the site and its buildings faded a little and by the late 1980s rumours abounded the school that it was to be closed by the Woodard Society.
Taking over as headmistress in 1988, Mrs Town was determined to continue the school and its success in turning out intelligent, confident and astute young ladies.
Eventually a parent at Queen Ethelburga’s provided an answer for the future of the school. Living nearby at Thorpe Underwood Hall, Mr Brian Martin offered his house and grounds as the new site for QE and the move from Harrogate began.
“If you think that through the days in 1991 staff kept our composure and slept peacefully in our beds at night you would be wrong,” Mrs Town went on to write in a history of Queen Ethelburga’s.
The move just a few miles to the east was monumental. Lives literally had to be packed up and shipped down the A59. For some the experience was very painful, leaving the buildings which had housed the school for decades. For others the excitement of a new home was exhilarating. Jean was the headmistress, and helped staff, teachers and pupils cope with the move with her usual stoicism and calm.
In 1993, Mrs Town retired from Queen Ethelburga’s and moved with her husband to Grange over Sands in Cumbria to take back up their love of hill-walking. The dream was to be short lived as Mr Town was diagnosed with dementia and his wife became a full-time carer until his death in 2003.
Mrs Town was an important member of St Mary’s Church in Allithwaite. She became a member of the church council, was a church warden, was on the Deanery Synod and was on the Churches Together Committee with particular responsibility for the role of young people in the church.
St Mary’s Reverend Rob Jackson described her as a keystone of the congregation and said she would be deeply missed.
“Jean was always there,” said Reverend Jackson. “She always thought about other people and what she could do to help others. She had a generous heart and I will always remember that even though she had been in hospital herself she found time to send flowers to my wife who had gone through an operation. That was Jean, such a kind and thoughtful lady.”
Mrs Town was also chair of the Mary Lambert Hall Committee. She was never one to shy from taking on tasks and was an energetic and enthusiastic person. She was a committed member of the Liberal Democrats and campaigned and canvassed well into her seventies.
She was also the Lakes area co-ordinator for the Quality Research in Dementia team of the Alzheimer’s Society and was charged to look at research projects into dementia and to help decide fund allocation.
John Towler from Churches Together described Mrs Town as a woman with a big heart and with the enthusiasm to match. “She always insisted on hosting our meetings at her house and she used to bring out just an incredible amount of food for us all,” he said.
“One of Jean’s successes was getting a young man appointed as a youth leader for the churches and she asked him along to our meetings during which she would feed him up and then give him doggy bags to take home with him. She will be sorely missed and was a lovely, lovely lady.”