Obituary - Janet Hartley

29th October 2010 at 01:00


Janet Hartley was ostensibly a conventional product of her time: devoutly Christian, she spent her working week teaching housekeeping skills, and her Saturday evenings dancing in the ballroom of the local pub. But she was also a late-life adventurer, who sailed across the Atlantic, backpacked around the world and took up yoga in retirement.

Janet Mary Hartley was born in Wigan in September 1930, the daughter of housewife Madge and Donald, a local-government education official. Mr Hartley's job demanded a series of moves in Janet's early childhood: first to Nottingham and later to Blackburn, where he became director of education.

As a teenager, she attended a convent secondary. Then, at the age of 17, she decided to follow in her father's professional footsteps, and enrolled in a teacher-training college in Leicester. She emerged a qualified home-economics teacher, and joined the staff of Ackworth, a Quaker boarding school.

Cookery was a passion: she had been taught by her mother, a dedicated breadmaker. But she also believed that broader home-economics skills, such as nutrition and housekeeping, were vital for both girls and boys.

In 1959, she was appointed home-economics teacher at Robert Ferguson school in Carlisle. Arriving in a strange city, where she knew no one, she sought advice about accommodation from the local vicar. And so began an enduring involvement with Carlisle's St James's church.

Growing up in Blackburn, she had attended a Methodist church and a Catholic school: she drew no distinctions between denominations. A dedicated Christian, she was equally at home in a Catholic or a Quaker school. She therefore saw no contradiction in joining an Anglican congregation in Carlisle.

She set up an inter-school Christian fellowship, bringing together Christian teachers from across the local authority. Later, she became a member of the pastoral visiting team.

Miss Hartley continued to teach in Carlisle, moving to a post at the new St Aidan's school, created following the merger of Robert Ferguson with nearby Carlisle and County High. Here, she relished her role as form tutor. It gave her responsibility for a single year group over three years, and she enjoyed the opportunity to build strong relationships - and have "meaningful conversations" - with her young charges.

However, she grew increasingly concerned by the marginalisation of home economics within the curriculum. As talk of childhood obesity spread, she became all the more adamant that nutrition was a vital part of education.

She had simple tastes and needs: Saturday nights were inevitably spent in the local ballroom. But her church-going, ballroom-dancing conventionality was deceptive: she was unexpectedly openminded, and took up yoga.

She was, indeed, a woman of contrasts: notably frugal in everyday life, she would then splash out on lavish trips abroad. When, in 1976, her aunt gave her use of her Athens villa for the summer holidays, Miss Hartley invited several colleagues to join her for the trip.

She also developed an interest in sailing: in her mid-60s, she announced unexpectedly that she would sail across the Atlantic, then down the St Lawrence river to the Great Lakes. She returned addicted to the thrill of adventure: she and two friends bought a round-the-world ticket, and their travels created a significant spike in the average age on the backpacker route. She had a similar impact on the local gym, where she was a regular participant in exercise classes.

Miss Hartley did not marry, and had no children. She always maintained that the best condition was to be married, the second-best to be single. The worst option, she believed, was to be married to the wrong person.

She had planned to spend her 80th birthday in Norway, observing the midnight sun. But it was not to be. Janet Hartley died on September 4, three weeks before she was to turn 80.

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