Obituary - Dot Mainwaring

9th April 2010 at 01:00


As far as Dot Mainwaring was concerned, everything was a competition. A simple trip to the garden centre or a casual chat about holiday photos were merely excuses for potential one-upmanship.

But, equally, the Bradford deputy head knew it was the taking part that ultimately counted: she repeatedly emphasised to pupils the value of giving things a go.

Dorothy Mary Ridley was born in North Yorkshire in 1957. As a child, she had a passion for sport. From the early years of secondary school until a few months before her death, she played hockey every Saturday.

After school, she took a certificate in education at Bingley College, specialising in PE. She then got a job at nearby Ladderbanks Middle School.

As a class teacher, she illustrated lessons with examples from her own life. She was renowned for the aged red 2CV car - fondly called Chuglet - in which she drove pupils to hockey and badminton matches. Eventually, the motor caught fire; the tragic demise of Chuglet was subsequently used as the subject for a classroom newspaper-writing exercise.

Similarly, a guilty fondness for chocolate ("I've just played squash - I'm allowed a Mars bar," she would say) was turned into a maths lesson: broken-up bars enabled her pupils to understand fractions.

With hindsight, she regretted not having stayed on at college and earned a full degree. So, in the 1980s, she returned to complete her BEd.

In the 1990s, Bradford abolished middle schools. Mrs Mainwaring struggled with this: she was not a fan of gratuitous change and would happily have stayed at Ladderbanks for the rest of her career. So she used the reorganisation period to enrol in an MSc course and gain some perspective.

In 1999, she took a job at Sandal Primary. Sandal had been a small first school, and Mrs Mainwaring was horrified by the lack of PE resources: sports lessons were conducted in a nearby park, with pupils dodging dog mess and rhododendron bushes.

A year later, the school moved to a new site, complete with four football and two cricket pitches, and Mrs Mainwaring set about making the most of these facilities. She was a gifted networker and had a knack for persuading local sportspeople to offer their services for free. "You'd find yourself somewhere cold and wet on a Saturday or a Sunday, thinking, 'What am I doing here?'" a colleague said. The answer was always the same: "You were there because of Dot."

Promoted to deputy head in January last year, Mrs Mainwaring nonetheless retained full responsibility for school sports. Always in school at 8am, she would not go home until the caretaker locked up at 6pm.

Sport dominated her life, but she also approached life as though it were a sports match. She was relentlessly competitive: on a trip to the garden centre, a friend remarked that she was going to grow onions. "Ooh! I'll grow onions, too," Mrs Mainwaring said. "Then we can see whose are biggest."

On another occasion, a casual conversation about holiday snaps was transformed into a monthly photography competition. "October champion! October champion!" Mrs Mainwaring greeted her husband after a particularly successful session.

She always played to win, but was not aggressive in her competitiveness. She merely wanted to feel that she had performed to the best of her ability.

And this was the message that she passed on to pupils: participation and self-belief were more important than excellence. Everyone who took part in school sports day was awarded a medal. Again, she used herself as an example: she was not academically gifted and yet, through sheer hard work, had earned a masters degree.

In 1981, she had married Alan Mainwaring, a fellow hockey player. They travelled abroad often, visiting both Everest and K2 base camps. These holidays became the subject of motivational school assemblies: "You can do it" was her motto.

She began to feel tired in October last year: this was unusual enough to be notable. In November, she lost the feeling in one of her cheeks; by December this had been diagnosed as a brain tumour. She was due to begin radiotherapy on February 2. On February 1, she suffered a stroke on the way to bed. It was four days before her 53rd birthday.

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