7th August 2009 at 01:00

Sybil Liptrot 1915-2009

Sybil Liptrot trained as a teacher in order to support her invalid brother and elderly mother. But she became a force to be reckoned with, staunchly standing up for equal rights for women in the staffroom and the classroom.

Miss Liptrot, who has died at the age of 92, was born a year into the First World War, in 1915. She was the eldest child of a coal merchant, who sold his wares from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.

One of her younger brothers died in childhood. The second, Gordon, was struck down with diphtheria at the age of 20. He had been a talented apprentice motor mechanic. But the illness left him physically and mentally incapacitated: he developed schizophrenia and was barely able to walk.

It was left to Sybil, therefore, to support her brother and aging parents. She qualified from Wigan training college in 1936 and that same year found a post as a biology teacher at nearby St Mark's girls' secondary.

She was to remain there for the next 34 years - 20 as deputy head and five as headteacher. A keen church-goer, she believed strongly in church schools: the church, she felt, promoted the values of her own youth.

And it was these values that she applied as religiously at school as she did in her own life. While eager to develop children's potential, she did not suffer fools or slackers. Laxness was not tolerated among her pupils, and she quickly developed a reputation for strictness and discipline.

Her thinking was logical and meticulous, reinforcing her scientific background. And she was straight-spoken: where she saw room for improvement, she would say as much.

Her forthrightness often upset people: it was not seen as quite the thing for women, particularly unmarried ones, to stand up and speak their mind. But Miss Liptrot was fiercely independent-minded and pulled her punches for no one.

There were rumours of a serious boyfriend, or even a fiance, at one stage. But her first commitment was always to her brother and mother, and there was not enough space in her life for anyone else. Still, no one ever heard her complain: she was motivated by a selfless sense of duty.

In 1970, St Mark's amalgamated with three other local schools to create the Deanery. With 1,500 pupils, it was the largest comprehensive in the country at the time. Usual practice was to appoint a male deputy, along with a senior mistress to look after girls' needs. But the head fought with the local authority and the governors to ensure that Miss Liptrot was one of three equal deputies.

For the five subsequent years until her retirement, Miss Liptrot represented not only female pupils at the Deanery but also female members of staff. She saw it as her responsibility to ensure that women were paid, promoted and treated equally to their male colleagues.

And she was given responsibility for public examinations. Her precision and organisational ability were ideally suited to sorting entries and arranging invigilation.

Despite her challenging home life and equally demanding job, Miss Liptrot was also a regular golfer and one-time women's captain at the local club. In later years, when trekking across the green became too much effort, she played bridge with golf club members instead.

She also served as president of the Wigan business and professional women's club and was an active member of the Soroptimists, a similar organisation for professional women.

It was while attending a women's lunch event in May this year that she suffered a heart attack. She was unconscious by the time she reached hospital; she did not wake up again.

Sybil Liptrot did not marry and had no children. She is remembered by her cousin David Lace, and by friends, colleagues and former pupils.

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