Obituary

18th February 2011 at 00:00

Sobel Wallis, who has died in Edinburgh at the age of 92, had "led a remarkably unremarkable life". These are the words of Isobel about herself on the dustcover of her History of John Watson's School. They illustrate her self-deprecating sense of humour, but not the richness of her life, nor her contribution to the development of hundreds of young lives.

Isobel was born in Edinburgh and educated at the city's Roseburn Primary and James Gillespie's High after which she became a typist with the Eagle Star Insurance Company. On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, she joined the WAAF. To those who had known her in later life, it came as no surprise that she was quickly commissioned as a ciphers officer with the Coastal Command, serving in stations across Britain, including London during the Blitz.

With her horizons extending beyond typing, Isobel, upon demob, went to Edinburgh University where she formed "an esoteric coterie" of mature, ex- service students who all went on to distinguished careers. Isobel completed her degree in 1950, gained her teaching diploma the following year and, after a spell at Falkirk Technical College, arrived at John Watson's School in 1955.

Here she held the portfolio post of deputy head, lady superintendent, head of English, and housemistress. Her predecessor had been a schoolmistress of the old school: stiff, formal, besuited, humourless. Isobel was a breath of fresh air: young, wearing colourful clothes and playing table tennis. too well! She was, nonetheless, a demanding teacher, expecting discipline, endeavour and accuracy.

With the headmaster, William Garlick, Isobel transformed John Watson's from a small boarding school, taking pupils up to the age of 15, into a fully fledged, all-through school with 450 pupils, the majority attending as fee-paying day pupils. Her erudition and organisational flair contributed to this, but she was also a very significant influence on the small number of girls in the boarding house for whom she was, for long periods, in loco parentis.

When, for essentially financial reasons, John Watson's closed in 1975, Isobel continued until her retirement to teach English further along the road at Daniel Stewart's College. During her retirement, she responded positively to the John Watson Club's invitation to write a history of the school, which was published in 1982. This most valuable record of a unique institution is a clear testament to her talents as researcher and writer as well as her qualities of rectitude and fairness.

Her impish, oft-sardonic, humour was with her to the end. On being accosted last year in Stockbridge by a collector for Help the Aged, she looked up and said firmly: "My dear, I am the aged." She will be sadly missed.

Dr Bob Glaister, with the help of many.

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