Joan Williams: Tribute to education stalwart who taught us all so much

Joan Williams in 2011, aged 91, when she stepped down after 15 years volunteering at Purwell Primary

Joan Williams in 2011, aged 91, when she stepped down after 15 years volunteering at Purwell Primary School in Hitchin. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

A heartfelt tribute has been paid to a stalwart of Hitchin and Letchworth education who has died at the age of 98.

Joan Williams’ roles included head of history at Hitchin Girls’ School and deputy head of Letchworth Grammar School, which became Fearnhill.

She was also much involved in adult education, giving decades of service to the Letchworth Settlement – where she started as honorary secretary in 1949, and finished in 2008 as president.

In retirement she volunteered at Hitchin’s British Schools Museum, where she dressed as a Victorian schoolmistress and gave lessons in the galleried classroom.

She also spent 15 years as a volunteer classroom assistant at Purwell Primary School, where she listened to pupils’ reading twice a week until she called it a day at the age of 91.

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Her friend Anna Gray told the Comet that countless former colleagues and pupils would remember Joan with admiration and affection.

“She was always interested in their academic progress, and their social activities,” said Anna.

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“Not only was she erudite, but also compassionate, as her pupils attest.

“She was a consummate public speaker, never at a loss for a word. What she said was always to the point and spiced with humour.”

Joan, who was originally from the Manchester area, was a history graduate of St Hilda’s College, Oxford.

In addition to her teaching career, she had a great interest in music and was a keen pianist. She was also a member of several singing groups – including the Orpheus Choir of North Herts, which she at times chaired – and a passionate lover of art.

Joan lived in Hitchin’s Hampden Road well into her 90s, eschewing central heating and TV, before spending her final years at the town’s Westbourne Care Home – where she died peacefully in April. Her funeral was at Harwood Park Crematorium near Stevenage on May 2.

“Because she had no relatives, her many friends and colleagues were the only mourners,” said Anna. “The music we chose for her reflected her love of composers such as Handel and Schubert, and her Welsh lineage.

“I think she would have been pleased to sing: ‘The golden evening brightens in the west; Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest’.

“Joan will be remembered with affection by many people in Hitchin and Letchworth.”

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