Gertrude Levitt obituary

Other lives: Teacher who continued to give lessons as a private tutor until she was 101

My mother, Gertrude Levitt, who has died aged 107, became a teacher in her 50s after she emigrated from South Africa to Britain, and remained working in one sort of classroom or another until she finally retired at the age of 101.

Gertrude was born in Johannesburg to Gretl (nee Pereles), a governess, and Camil Sterne, a bookkeeper. She left Durban girls’ high school in 1930 at the age of 15 and worked as a secretary in Johannesburg until her marriage in 1942 to Nathan Levitt, a lawyer and businessman.

After their first child, Peter, died at the age of 19 months in 1945, she busied herself as a volunteer, helping to trace Holocaust victims on behalf of their relatives. Then three more children – Michael, Ruth and me – came along, taking up much of the next 20 years with childcare duties.

When we children were old enough, and after her marriage had ended in divorce in 1960, with a friend Gertrude set up and ran a house construction company, teaching herself the skills needed to buy land, design homes and oversee building sites.

Increasingly disturbed by apartheid and especially upset by the death in police custody of the African National Congress politician Looksmart Ngudle in 1963, Gertrude decided to move to England with her children in 1964 and lived in London for the rest of her life.

In 1968, at the age of 53, she completed teacher training at Gipsy Hill college in Kingston upon Thames and then taught at Ellerslie infants school, Shepherd’s Bush, rising to be headteacher there. As Ellerslie was a state school she was compelled, against her wishes, to retire at the age of 60, after which she worked first as a private tutor and then as headteacher of the independent Manor House prep school in Hanwell.

In 1983 Gertrude set up a small school, with me, in the lounge of the flat that we shared in Ealing, catering for up to 11 pupils, most of whom were not achieving their potential in mainstream schools.

When that venture ended in 1998 she returned to being a private tutor, keeping up that work for many years until forced by failing eyesight to retire in 2017. During that final period as a tutor, Gertrude had also studied for a degree in education with applied linguistics from the Open University, which she completed at the age of 92, only four years younger than the oldest person ever to complete a degree.

Outside work she enjoyed travelling, looking at the sea, hillwalking, studying flowers, listening to music and being with family and friends. She was still going camping at the age of 94 and drove her car until she was 101. She went on her last holiday, to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, less than two months before her death.

Gertrude is survived by Michael, Ruth and me, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Jonathan Levitt

The GuardianTramp

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