My mother, Wendy Sturgess, who has died aged 87, initially qualified and worked as a librarian but taught English as a foreign language for most of her career. Latterly, she was active in the University of the Third Age (U3A), teaching Italian to students and running a local poetry group in Knaphill, near Woking, Surrey.
She was born in St Albans, Hertfordshire, to Winifred (nee Clarke) and Ormond Harris, and grew up there with her sister, Joan. Her father had been imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the first world war; this made it difficult for him to find employment on his release and he worked as a ledger clerk in a travel agency and then as a bookseller. Wendy’s early life was affected by the loss of her mother, a civil servant, who died two weeks after giving birth to her without ever leaving hospital; she and her sister were brought up by female relatives.
She attended St Albans high school for girls and then worked in public libraries for a decade after studying librarianship at Brighton Technical College. In 1960 she travelled to Italy, where she met Silvio Ruis. They married in 1961, in Barnet, north London, before returning to live in Udine, north-east Italy, where Wendy taught English at various schools in the locality, before starting her own language school there.
Having separated from Silvio, Wendy returned to the UK in 1970 with me and my brother, Peter, and settled in Barnet, where she continued to teach both privately and in colleges, and was a school librarian for a period at the Queens’ school in Bushey. Following my parents’ divorce, my mother married Peter Sturgess, a maths teacher, in 1978, but they separated in 1984 (and he died in 1989).
Active in her local community, Wendy founded a thriving social group, “Barnet 30+”, before moving to Kingston, south-west London, in 1980. In 1984, she started her own successful teacher supply agency, providing tutors in all subjects, and worked full-time in the business.
She retired from full-time work in 1993 and moved to Somerset, where she was active in her local Humanist group, took up various art projects and began collecting automaton toys, amassing a collection of kinetic art. She also spent more time on creative projects and produced her own decoupage pictures, some which she sold at local art fairs.
Wendy left Somerset in 2007 and settled in Knaphill, where she became a stalwart of her local U3A group, holding regular Italian conversation classes and poetry readings at her home, whilst expanding her collection of automatons, to the delight of her grandchildren.
In her later years, with reduced mobility, she found it harder to get around but managed to continue to teach regardless and was planning lessons as well as hosting sessions on Zoom. Her long letters (she wrote many) will not be forgotten by friends, while her students remember an innovative, charming and exceptional teacher.
Wendy is survived by me and Peter, her grandchildren, Oliver, Zoe, Sam, Luca and Darcey, and her sister Joan.
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