Mary Jones obituary

Other lives: Dedicated teacher and political activist

My mother, Mary Jones, who has died aged 94, was a headteacher and passionate believer in social justice.

She was born in Littleborough, Lancashire (now in Greater Manchester), the daughter of Alice (nee Backhouse) and Norman Pickup. While Mary was still young, the family moved to Crumpsall, Manchester. Her mother died when she was 11, after which she was raised primarily by her grandmother.

Although Norman was a humanist he insisted that his daughter went to the local Methodist church so that she could make up her own mind about religion. The church, a vibrant one with many activities, would come to dominate her life. Her ambition was to become a nurse and during the second world war she volunteered to work in the local hospital, but her involvement in the church scouts group steered her towards the care of children and education.

In 1947 she enrolled on a teacher training course in Coventry, where she met John Jones, also a teacher, at a dance, and they married in 1949.

Mary started her career in 1948 at Hope Street school, Salford, where she set up a girl’s netball team. The initiative was so popular that many female workers from the local factory would come to support the team after their shifts had finished.

In 1952 she had her first child, Richard, and had to give up work. When Norman contracted tuberculosis she decided to nurse him at home. So Richard was one of the first children in Britain to receive a new type of vaccination against the disease.

Following Norman’s death, Mary returned to teaching in 1963 at Cheetwood primary school, next to Strangeways prison. She taught a mixture of children; some of their fathers were “over the wall” and some of them were prison warders. She said it was a time full of laughter, as the children said so many amusing things. In 1967 she became deputy head at Miles Platting primary school, which was “failing”, and she often ended up having to teach 80 children when other staff could not cope.

Miles Platting was closed after it was found to be built on top of a mine shaft and Mary was promoted to headteacher at Harpur Mount school in Harpurhey, which by chance was next door to the school where her husband was head, Collyhurst. It was in a major slum clearance area and together they provided the best possible educational environment for the children. Mary stayed at Harpur Mount until her retirement in 1980.

She was for some time the secretary of the local Labour party in Manchester, and was a prolific letter writer. She disagreed with the war in Iraq and was involved in a number of issues, from CND and Amnesty International to anti-apartheid and, lately, anti-austerity, for which she attended her final demonstration in her 90s in a wheelchair, having just had a new heart valve fitted.

When she retired she took to computers and swapped letter writing for an Instagram account on her iPad. She read the Guardian online, signing petitions and writing emails to politicians until a week before her death.

John died in 2010 and Richard in 2014. Mary is survived by me, her grandchildren, Anna, Luke, Alice, Richard and Rachel, and four great-grandchildren.

Sara Newman

The GuardianTramp

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