Mary Compton obituary

Other lives: Dedicated teacher and trade unionist

Mary Compton, who has died of cancer aged 67, was an inspirational teacher and trade unionist. A modern languages teacher, she was active in the National Union of Teachers for more than 30 years, eventually serving as its president in 2004-05.

As the NUT speaker at the million-strong rally against British intervention in Iraq in 2003, she began her speech: “I am speaking as a teacher. I extend my solidarity to the teachers of Iraq and the children of Iraq.” In Powys, mid-Wales, where she lived, she led marches, lobbies and a strike against school closures as recently as 2016.

Mary was determined to internationalise the struggles of teachers in response to the effect of privatisation on education. She was the architect of a conference held in London in 2014 that examined the impact of these developments across the world, particularly in the global south, and visited India a number of times to build support for teachers there. She founded the Teacher Solidarity website to share information about those struggles.

Mary was also a contributor to books and journals, including Rethinking Schools and New Politics. A close friend and colleague of mine for more than 35 years, I first met her at an NUT conference, and my work with her included writing a chapter for a book that she edited, The Global Assault on Teaching, Teachers and their Unions: Stories for Resistance (2008). Most recently she wrote a chapter in Where Are the Unions? Workers and Social Movements in Latin America, the Middle East and Europe (2017).

Born in Bristol to Kenneth Compton, a buyer at the South Western Electricity Board, and Marjorie (nee Hockey), a secretary at Imperial Tobacco, Mary grew up in the city and went to Redlands high school.

She studied modern languages at Southampton University, graduating in 1971, then got her PGCE at Bath College of Higher Education in 1976. After a brief period at Newtown high school, Powys, she began teaching at John Beddoes school in neighbouring Presteigne, where she stayed for the rest of her career. For more than 20 years she wrote and directed the pantomime in the town.

She became secretary of the Radnor branch of the NUT in 1985, a post she retained for the rest of her working life, and of the union’s Powys division in the 1990s. After being an executive member for Wales, she became a national officer in 2002, and then president. In 2010 she returned to college to study an MA in international labour and trade union studies at Ruskin College.

Her illness prevented her attending the NUT’s delegation to Mexico this year, which she had instigated, but she was keen to hear the outcomes. At the time of her death, she was a trustee of the union.

Mary is survived by her husband, Hugh Pope, a builder, whom she married in 1980, their children, Clarrie, Helen, Blanche and Faith, and granddaughter, Eira.

Ian Murch

The GuardianTramp

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