Sue Pearson obituary

Other lives: Kindertransport child, teacher, educator and lifelong socialist who spoke out for contemporary refugee children

My friend Sue Pearson, who has died aged 92, came to Sheffield from Prague on the Kindertransport in 1939 at the age of 11. Her childhood experiences bred a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of all children.

In March 1939, Hitler occupied the remainder of what was then Czechoslovakia, and Jews in Prague were aware of the danger they were in. Sue’s secular Jewish parents took the brave decision to send her on a Kindertransport in June 1939, thinking it would be a temporary measure, but, like most children who made the journey, Sue never saw them again.

Sue Pearson as a child, skiing with her father in the mid-1930s
Sue Pearson as a child, skiing with her father in the mid-1930s Photograph: provided by friend

When Sue arrived in Sheffield she was fostered by a family through the Woodcraft Folk and attended Woodseats school in Sheffield, leaving at 14 to work in a drawing office.

At 16 she left her foster home to work in a hospital school in London, then began training as a children’s nurse, but at the end of the war returned to Sheffield, where she trained and worked as a nursery nurse. In 1945 she married Harry Pearson.

In her late 30s, Sue trained as a teacher and became head at Grace Owen nursery school in Sheffield, subsequently training nursery teachers at Sheffield Hallam University. She was appointed MBE for services to education in 1985 and awarded an honorary doctorate by Sheffield Hallam University in 2000.

Sue was born in Moravská Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, the only child of Pavel Ehrmann, an engineer, and Eliska (nee Weinreb). The family moved to Prague when she was four.

In her early adult life Sue spoke little about her childhood experiences, preferring to “fit in, like most refugees”. However, an exhibition about Anne Frank that she helped bring to Sheffield more than 30 years ago changed that. Once retired she gave regular talks to schoolchildren and spoke at events about the Holocaust and the Kindertransport, including at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, which holds the suitcase she brought with her in 1939 in its collection. I met Sue when I produced a play about the life of Anne Frank at the school I was teaching at in Chesterfield. She became a regular visitor to my classes. Even the most difficult-to-engage groups were always rapt during Sue’s talk and would ask profound and perceptive questions.

Sue Pearson at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, with the suitcase she brought with her to the UK in 1939
Sue Pearson at the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, with the suitcase she brought with her to the UK in 1939. Photograph: Jeremy Abrahams

Sue served as chair of voluntary organisations including the Sheffield branch of the British Association for Early Childhood Education and Sheffield Home-Start. She also volunteered for Sheffield Family Service Unit and the Samaritans, and worked with groups of adults, including refugees and asylum seekers, who were learning English. Most recently she was keen to support Safe Passage, which helps vulnerable child refugees in Europe to access legal routes to safety.

Harry died in 2016. Sue is survived by their three daughters, Julia, Helen and Anne, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Jeremy Abrahams

The GuardianTramp

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