Obituary - Dorothy Dean 1915-2011

17th February 2012 at 00:00

Dorothy Dean had presence. Small and softly spoken, the Grimsby headteacher nonetheless commanded instant respect. No one, teacher or pupil, wanted to be on the wrong side of Miss Dean.

Born in July 1915, the Manchester cabinet-maker's daughter inherited her father's commitment to meticulous detail.

After graduating from the University of Manchester with an MA, she went on to take a teaching diploma. From 1938 until 1953, she taught at co-educational grammar schools, culminating in the deputy headship of Tottenham girls' grammar in north London.

Though physically diminutive, she had unequivocal presence and a serenity that pupils simply responded to. She spoke quietly and slowly, and everyone listened. She also spoke meticulously, every "t" clearly enunciated. In later years she gave elocution lessons to pupils, requiring them to repeat vowel-filled phrases about Bob the baboon bouncing on the bottom of a boat.

No one wanted to put a foot wrong with Miss Dean; no one wanted to be sent to her office. Such was the respect she generated that former pupils, no matter how successful in their own right, still could not refer to her as anything other than "Miss Dean".

In 1953, she was appointed head of Wintringham grammar in Grimsby. She was dismayed to discover that the school was separating into boys' and girls' grammars, divided by a "Berlin Wall" - she had always been a co-educational teacher.

In the mid-1950s, Miss Dean appointed Mary Buckley as her deputy head. The two became a double-act within school, Miss Dean's forthrightness contrasted with Miss Buckley's more empathic approach. They also shared a love of music, literature and the arts, and a close friendship developed out of school, too. Holidays were spent travelling abroad, learning about the cultures of Africa, India and the Americas.

In 1965, the two Wintringham grammars became a single, mixed-sex comprehensive, with Miss Dean as its head. She saw change as natural: provided it was in the best interests of pupils, it was not to be feared. Thus, by 1974 she had overseen a move to a new site and the demolition of the old buildings.

She wrote as she spoke, and her letter, whether sympathy cards or thank-you notes, were always thought-out and compassionate. Indeed, she believed that community was vital and worked closely with local councillors and heads.

Miss Dean retired in 1974, but continued to take a keen interest in the school. She was determined to keep abreast of educational developments and supported Wintringham's 2007 shift to academy status.

Despite her increasingly advanced age, she still had pupils' silent attention whenever she visited school to address them.

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