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Obituary - Betty Brett 1933-2012

The experience of growing up in the aftermath of the Great Depression led Betty Brett to do all she could to rescue fellow teachers from poverty and despair.

Born Betty Evans in 1933, she was raised in Durham, where her father was a miner and a union official. She attended teacher training college in Didsbury and took her first job in Durham in 1953, as a secondary teacher specialising in English and PE. Later, she switched to working in primary schools.

From Durham, Mrs Brett moved to South Woodford in East London with her husband Bill. This move coincided with the start of her long involvement with the NUT. She joined the Leyton branch in 1963, when she began teaching at the former Ruckholt Manor school, and she was a founder member of Waltham Forest NUT in 1965, serving as president four times between 1983 and 2009. She also took on the role of treasurer. Her commitment was recognised at the 2010 NUT conference, when she was given a standing ovation in honour of the fact that she was the longest serving member to attend.

Mrs Brett was also active in the Teachers' Benevolent Fund (now the Teacher Support Network), helping teachers out of debt and despair in her role as area secretary.

Throughout her career, she fought to defend education. To her mind, schools should be about children, not statistics or bureaucracy. Unsurprisingly, she had little time for Ofsted.

Mrs Brett's first commitment was always to the classroom. She went on to teach in several primary and secondary schools in Waltham Forest, as well as working for the local authority to help schools with management difficulties. Her only time away from the classroom, she said, was to bring up her son David, born in 1973.

Larger than life and unstintingly loyal, Mrs Brett took no nonsense and had an "old-fashioned" approach to discipline. But she was generous and kind, and always willing to help. She was known for her home-made cakes and biscuits, which brightened up many Inset days and union meetings; her lemon drizzle cake was particularly celebrated.

Mrs Brett retired from full-time teaching in 1993, but continued to work as a supply teacher at Selwyn Primary in East London. She gave her last lesson there, aged 77, in September 2010.

For several years she had battled five different cancers. During her time in hospital she knew the name of every tablet she took and what it was for. She was full of praise for the doctors and nurses who treated her, and was visited by a hospital trust boss who wanted to hear about her admiration for the NHS. She was determined to get well and was eager to continue her usual activities. Indeed, at the time of her death she was an elected NUT conference delegate for 2013, the chair of the teachers' panel of the Joint Consultative Committee of Waltham Forest, and the NUT representative on the Schools Health and Safety Committee.

She is survived by Bill, her husband of 55 years, her son David, and his wife Amanda and their children.

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