Obituary - Audrey Simmons 1923-2009

17th April 2009 at 01:00

Audrey Simmons began teaching domestic science after spending the Second World War cooking for injured soldiers. But her career choice also ensured that her family was well fed during times of adversity.

She was born into a family of Yorkshire farmers, but farming did not appeal to young Audrey. Instead, she would line up teddy bears and deliver lessons to them.

Eventually, she moved beyond toys and enrolled in teacher training. Initially, she was a generalist, teaching infants and juniors.

During the war, a number of soldiers were billeted in the village. As a farmer's daughter, Audrey did not suffer the extreme food shortages of the time. So she gathered her extra rations and cooked impromptu meals for the soldiers. Many of them were injured or lonely. Her meals were more than physical sustenance: they provided the emotional nourishment the soldiers craved.

Inspired by the experience, she took a job at Hoyle Mill secondary in Barnsley, teaching domestic science and needlework.

Among the soldiers Audrey met was an officer cadet named John Simmons. Audrey's initial verdict was that he was "nothing special", but this changed as the two became better acquainted. In 1944, they married. It was a traditional wartime wedding: the bride wore parachute silk. Later that year, John was posted to west Africa, and then to Italy.

When he returned, his wife gave up work. In 1947, their first son, Rodney, was born and, several months later, died. Richard followed in 1950, and Roger in 1955.

Shortly before Roger was born, the family moved from Yorkshire to Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire. Simmons, who returned to work part-time, lost her Yorkshire brogue: at the time, regional accents were frowned on in the classroom.

The Simmons's family life was not easy. When Roger was five, he developed meningitis, leaving him brain-damaged. And John Simmons had never fully recovered from malaria contracted during the war: he died in 1964. That left Simmons supporting two young sons single-handedly. She took a full-time job at Welwyn Garden City High School and began to practise what she preached in the domestic science classroom; she made the family's clothes herself, and planned and prepared carefully budgeted meals.

Her aim was that her sons should want for nothing, and, aside from Richard's request that they replace the family Austin with a Jaguar, she succeeded. It was a source of personal pride when she was able to send him to Nottingham University.

Not long after graduating, Richard married. This came as a relief to his mother, who - though she continued to bake him cakes - felt no longer responsible for his care. She also enjoyed exchanging kitchen-based stories with Richard's wife, a food-premises inspector. Her stories inevitably involved schoolboys who brought in the wrong ingredients for cookery class: she always kept a cupboard stocked, to limit embarrassment.

Simmons regularly made costumes for school performances, knocking out fairy outfits for A Midsummer Night's Dream in an evening. She was a talented singer - and prepared to laugh at herself. She also appeared in several school variety performances.

Though she loved her job, she was happy to retire in 1983. By that stage, she was manager of the domestic science department, and resented the hours of administrative work that kept her away from the classroom. In retirement, she was able to return to the teaching that she loved: she ran a creative writing course at the University of the Third Age. And she regularly produced humorous Catherine Tate-like pastiches of her previous pupils for her new, older charges.

Roger had died in the 1970s. In 2004, Simmons moved to Oxfordshire to be closer to Richard, her remaining son. She died of heart failure on February 19, her 86th birthday.

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