Obituary: Teacher, 88, who taught longlisted Booker Prize novelist
- Credit: Supplied by Monty Ellson
Taking a group of young children on a school trip is often a rewarding experience for any teacher.
But for Margery Ellson, it was a chance for her to beam with pride while looking after the pupils she taught.
On one such visit to Norwich market during the 1980s, her ability to teach was reinforced when one of her young pupils demonstrated what they had learned.
The city traders are said to have looked on in amazement when one of the pupils, aged no more than seven, was quick to point out the “tessellated tiles” on the floor.
Recalling the event, described in colourful detail, Monty Ellson, her husband of 65 years, said: “They couldn’t believe these young children were using words like that.”
And while she was proud of all of her students, she understandably had a soft spot for one in particular – a young man named Jon McGregor.
The Bermuda-born novelist and short story writer, who spent his childhood in Norfolk, was the youngest contender for the Booker Prize with his debut novel in 2002. Mrs Ellson had first introduced him to reading and writing.
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The Reverend Monty Ellson added: “She taught him at Heartsease First School and taught him to read and value words. He once sent her a note with his book. She really treasured that.”
In fact, being a “people’s person” would be something she carried with her throughout her life.
Margery Prescott was born to parents Albert and Elsie Prescott on May 4, 1933, in Widnes, Chesire, although historically in Lancashire at the time of her birth. Two years later, she welcomed a brother, Norman.
She attended Wade Deacon Grammar School and had wanted to go on to art college but was persuaded to read English at Birmingham University.
It was a move that saw her meet her future husband, a native to Birmingham and also a fellow student. The couple met through a theatre group in 1953.
But her love of art remained with her, a skill she demonstrated in later life when she painted flowers for her grandchildren.
After graduating with an English degree in 1954, the following year she was awarded her Diploma in Education. She began teaching in Castle Bromwich until 1956, the same year she married Rev Ellson on August 25 in her hometown.
Rev Ellson, of North Walsham, described how their next move would start a pattern that cemented their relationship as a two-way partnership.
He said: “After we married, we said we would go wherever in the country where we were both offered a job.
“And it was Norwich Education Community that offered us both jobs.
“Throughout our life, we went as a couple everywhere we went.”
The pair taught at Lakenham Secondary Modern School, now Hewett Academy, in Norwich. Rev Ellson taught the boys and Mrs Ellson the girls. She worked there from 1956 to 1959, leaving before the birth of the couple's first son, Andrew, in 1960.
She spent the next 10 years out of education in order to raise the family and gave birth to three more children; Debbie in 1961, Joanne in 1964, and Bridget in 1965.
“She was very much the heart of the family,” Mr Ellson said.
“It was her role as a wife and a mother that was always most important to her.”
When Bridget turned four, the family moved to Brentford, in Essex. Mrs Ellson worked part time for a year before teaching at Sunnydene, a facility for pregnant schoolgirls, until 1971.
Later, they returned to Norwich and Mrs Ellson began working at Norwich’s Reading Centre, helping children who were struggling. She spent five years there before becoming deputy head at Bignold First School, off Wessex Street.
She retired from teaching in 1989, finishing her career as headteacher of Heartsease First School.
“She enjoyed teaching. She would always call herself a teacher and never a headmistress. She loved being with the kids”
Following her retirement, she was presented with an unexpected twist to her life as Rev Ellson became ordained.
The couple moved to different parts of the county, including Gaywood, King’s Lynn, the Pulhams, South Walsham, Freethorpe, Cromer and Horning, where Rev Ellson worked as a man of the cloth.
He said: “She never expected to be a vicar’s wife but she was so fulfilled in that role.
“She was so terrific with all the parishioners and with all people really – universally popular and always saw the best in people. She was a real people’s person and we had a good partnership.
“She loved entertaining and was a fine hostess. She kept a hospitality book, a record of all the parties and dinner-parties we had for the past thirty or so years.
“Not only did she record the names of those present and the details of the menu, but she rated the food and occasionally left comments on the sociability of the gathering.”
Before having a family, the couple enjoyed being part of Norwich’s theatre community. They also sailed together for more than 40 years and were members of the Yare Valley Sailing Club, and in her spare time, Mrs Ellson enjoyed doing embroidery.
The couple enjoyed holidays to the Greek islands and visited the Holy Land four times, but they especially loved Iona on the west coast of Scotland. Their daughter, Debbie – a nun for 19 years – first introduced them to the island before her death in 2005.
Rev Ellson added: “Our life has just been terrific. We've had terrific experiences wherever we have been.”
Mrs Ellson died on April 5 aged 88 following a short illness. Her funeral took place at St Benedict's Church in Horning on April 22. As well as her husband, children, and brother, she leaves behind her grandchildren. A great grandchild is due to be born this summer.