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Obituary - Alison Gray 1956-2012

Among pupils, she was the short teacher with the posh accent. Among colleagues, she was always up for a drink and a laugh. But neither her shortness, her poshness nor her occasional drunkenness diminished the esteem in which Alison Gray was held at the Wigan school where she worked.

Alison Humphries was born in March 1956, in the Middlesex village of Ickenham. She was brought up to value literature and went on to study English at Swansea University before taking her teacher-training certificate in Leeds.

Her first posts were at nearby secondaries, including a girls' grammar. It was during this time that she met Ian Gray, a fellow English teacher. The couple married in August 1984 and, when Ian was appointed to a job in Wigan, Alison followed.

After a year at Winstanley College, one of the highest-achieving sixth-form colleges in the country, she moved to Rose Bridge High School on a 12-month contract. She did not leave for another 24 years.

Rose Bridge served a disadvantaged area of Wigan and Mrs Gray, a five-foot teacher from a middle-class background, had a decidely "posh" accent, pupils agreed.

Yet she had quiet authority. Without shouting or demanding attention, she immediately drew respect. She was resolute; she was well-prepared; she had an obviously sharp intellect. She was, a colleague commented, the kind of person who would previously have been said to hold the empire together.

After a year, she was appointed head of English. At the time, she was the most senior woman in the school. She began transforming its ethos: where discipline had been synonymous with shouting, now pupils were listened to and reasoned with.

Responsible for training new teachers across the borough, she listened to younger colleagues, too, and was always willing to offer advice. She and three other members of staff formed "the women's support group", essentially an excuse for occasional excess. Mrs Gray knew her beers and also how to enjoy herself. After one night out, she visited a local primary school during its assembly. On the way in, she was presented with a Bible; at the end of the day, she was still absently clutching it, with no idea why.

Despite her eagerness to start a family, she and Ian had only one child, Sophie. Mrs Gray was always determined not to let work stop her from taking Sophie to Brownies or dance classes. She was a similarly supportive daughter, regularly travelling to visit her widowed mother at weekends.

Later, as assistant head, she helped to compile the school's timetables. She was unfailingly fair, but she was also pragmatic: her help was contingent on her being allocated free periods on a Friday afternoon so that she could beat the weekend traffic.

She was diagnosed with a brain tumour 18 months ago. On 31 December, she retired - her brief retirement was spent in a hospice. Alison Gray died on 11 January.

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