Ivor Mitchell obituary

Other lives: Headteacher who worked to improve the lives of children with special needs

My father, Ivor Mitchell, who has died aged 91, worked throughout his life to improve the lives of children with special needs in both his capacity as a headteacher and as vice-chairman of the British Sports Association for the Disabled (BSAD, now the English Federation of Disability Sport).

Born in Birmingham, to Lila, a shop worker, and Bert, a travelling salesman, Ivor attended Halesowen grammar school, where he excelled at sport; he was a demon fast bowler and had a great turn of speed on the rugby pitch. Notable for his auburn locks, Ivor caught the attention of Pauline Scott, but they did not meet until their early 20s: cast together in a play at their old school’s drama society. In The Double-edged Sword, they were directed to embrace passionately and kiss. They became engaged soon after; and married in 1951.

After demob from wartime service in the Signals, Ivor trained to be a teacher at St Peter’s College, Saltley, Birmingham. His early teaching soon led him to working with children with special needs. In the late 50s, he was appointed headteacher at Skilts open-air residential school – a mansion house in the rolling Warwickshire countryside. The pupils were considered delicate due to their profound health and emotional and social needs.

Years later, Ivor was sought out by an ex-Skilts pupil, who wanted to thank him. On parting the young man said: “Do you mind me asking – are you a socialist?” Ivor confirmed this and his visitor replied: “I thought so, sir – by the way you spoke to us and cared for us and helped us think about the world.”

As headteacher of Wilson Stuart special school in Erdington, Ivor fought vigorously to promote sport for all. As vice-chairman of the BSAD he worked closely with its founder, Sir Ludwig Guttmann. The association organised the International Stoke Mandeville Games, the forerunner of the international Paralympic Games. In 1988 Ivor was appointed OBE for his services to sport for disabled people.

After retirement Ivor dedicated much time to his continued support of people with disabilities. He also chaired Lichfield Civic Society and, with John Sanders, developed the now longstanding, popular, rural Darwin Walk (in honour of the physician Erasmus Darwin) which circumnavigates Lichfield. He and Mum travelled, hill-walked and mused at length together over the Guardian crosswords.

Ivor is remembered for his extraordinary energy, compassion, conviction and terrier-like tenacity.

He is survived by Pauline, my brother, Steve, and me, and his granddaughters, Debbie, Lyndsey and Izzy.

Sally Whelan

The GuardianTramp

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