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Obituary - Anne Margaret Phelps, 1959-2012

Anne Margaret Phelps had an air of quiet authority. She was, said colleagues, unassuming, caring and approachable. She was brave and had a wicked sense of humour, but above all she listened.

As head of The Oaks Primary in Birmingham, Mrs Phelps was the kind of leader who would be just as prepared to scrape plates in the canteen as take a class for an absent teacher. She was dedicated to the school and to her career in education, which she had at one point almost turned her back on.

She was born Anne Margaret Duggan in Birmingham in 1959, the seventh of nine siblings. Her mother worked as a secretary and her father was a firefighter.

Growing up, Anne Margaret had ambitions to be a teacher and left Birmingham to train in Derby at the age of 18. But it didn't work out, perhaps because by then she had met her husband-to-be, Bob Phelps, a 20-year-old who lived in the same street as her. She returned to Birmingham and worked in Littlewoods for a couple of years, before restarting her teacher training.

Her entire career was spent in schools in deprived areas. Expectations in school were always high, but the atmosphere was ever welcoming. If staff needed to chat after school, she would never say she was too busy; she would listen first and then stay late - or take the work home.

Outside school, Mrs Phelps became known as the Queen of the Baked Potato: her lack of interest in cooking was legendary in her family. Her passion was education. She would often travel to courses with fellow headteacher Judy Matthiae, of Broadmeadow Junior School, giving them the chance to laugh and chat. She was serene, said Mrs Matthiae.

Mrs Phelps was diagnosed with gastric cancer in November 2011, but continued working until March 2012, when she suffered a stroke. She died aged 53 on 28 August. Mrs Phelps is survived by her husband and two sons.

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