Dorothy Emmerson obituary

Other lives: Primary school secretary who survived for 67 years with only one lung

My mother, Dorothy Emmerson, has died aged 87, having survived for 67 years with only one lung. In the late 1940s Dorothy contracted tuberculosis; at that time 60,000 people each year died from the disease in England and Wales and the annual mortality rate in her home city, Newcastle upon Tyne, was nearly 600.

At the age of 19 Dorothy went into Barrasford Sanatorium in the Northumberland countryside and had her left lung removed. She stayed there for two years. In the sanatorium she met Chris Emmerson, a Cambridge University student, who had been sent for similar treatment. So began a relationship of love, devotion, support and friendship. After Chris returned to Cambridge, cured, they wrote to each other at least once every day until they were married in 1955.

Dorothy was born at home in Stanhope Street, Newcastle. Her father, Jack Sturgeon, had fought in the first world war. He saw action at Beaumont-Hamel, France, where he was severely injured by shrapnel and frostbite. He was presumed dead and left in no man’s land for three days until he was seen to twitch and rescued by a team collecting the dead. Jack married Hilda Taylor, who lived in the same street, and Dorothy was their only child. She excelled at school, but left at 15 to become a legal secretary and then a dental nurse.

After their marriage, Chris and Dorothy moved away from the north-east – first to Yorkshire and then to Chigwell Row, Essex – and went on to have two children, Nicholas and me. My mother became the school secretary at the local Coppice primary school for many years, a job she loved because of the interaction with the children and parents. She retired in 1990.

She enjoyed reading, crosswords and looking after her garden. A key factor in her longevity was the arrival of four grandchildren.

She is survived by Chris, Nicholas and me, and by her grandchildren, Anna, Jack, Molly and Emily.

David Emmerson

The GuardianTramp

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