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The trails we leave behind... - There's something about Mary...

Nov. 23rd, 2010 11:01 am The trails we leave behind...

I believe that as we live our lives we leave behind trails, in the influences we have on others.

Today I remember the trails left by my Mum, Pat Perkins - she left behind trails everywhere she went...

- Scores of people who have a love of maths, due to her inspirational teaching; and still more who understand it when at first they thought they couldn't

- Mazes - only a few months ago I flicked through a puzzle magazine in a shop, and was surprised to see one of Mum's mazes in there (probably designed in the late 70s!)

- 'Advanced Mathematics' (by Perkins & Perkins) was one of the best selling sets of A level text books in the 80s, and, believe it or not, is still being used in schools today, across the world, to teach Maths.

- Two lovely* daughters        .....(ok maybe I am biased)*
- One grandchild (and another on the way)
- Her youngest daughter researches and teaches maths at Birkbeck. Her eldest teaches maths at school level, along with physics (her first love).

- And I try to live my life based on sound ethical principles absorbed from Dr Who, Star Trek, New Scientist and just the right amount of Christian teachings - all of which are things my mother shared with me from a young age!

Here's roughly what was said at Mum's funeral 8 years ago:


“Born on 25th August 1945, to George and Winnie Grady, a daughter, Patricia.”

Pat (she was hardly ever known as Patricia) was the eldest child, with a younger sister, Shelagh, and a younger brother, Kevin. George and Winnie were living in Birmingham, having moved there from Sunderland to follow George’s work. Childhood was happy, with some of the usual incidents – a broken arm from falling off the gate to see if Dad was coming home yet, that sort of thing. The family eventually moved a little further out of Birmingham – up to Quinton, where it was said that the next highest land to the east was the Urals, and the children went to the local primary school.

Pat was bright and at the age of 10 went to the grammar school in Halesowen, but after a year she transferred with a scholarship to the prestigious King Edward’s High School. She prospered in this environment and in 1964 won a scholarship to St Hilda’s College, Oxford, where she read Mathematics. In her first term, singing in a choir based at St Catherine’s – she had a good soprano voice, she found Martin singing bass behind her. The fact that they had mathematics in common (though Martin was in his final year) was an added bonus. They soon became, in modern parlance, an “item”. The summer term, when choir activities were in abeyance, was usually occupied with cricket. Martin coached the University Women’s team and Pat played against Cambridge twice, winning her half-blue. She did well on the academic front, with a First in part 1 and a very good second in Finals. She also found time to be Treasurer of the St Hilda’s JCR.

Pat and Martin got engaged on that most auspicious of dates, April 1st, in 1967, when Martin was already working in London, and Pat moved to King’s College, London, that September for her teacher training year. They were married at the parish church in Halesowen, to which the family had moved while Pat was at Oxford, on 10th August 1968. After a honeymoon in Wales at the end of which, when stopping in Oxford to buy pillows, the car had been broken into and the original marriage certificate stolen, they settled into married life in a flat in Dulwich and Pat started her first teaching job at Mary Datchelor School. After two years she moved into teacher training at Philippa Fawcett College in Streatham. It was always a matter of amusement that both these establishments later closed! When Martin moved to St Olave’s in January 1972 they were able to buy their first house and Pat gave up the Streatham job that summer, with the intention of starting a family.

Mary duly arrived, on Martin’s 30th birthday in August 1973, and some twenty months later came Sarah. Pat was always keen to be involved in things both inside and outside the home and was soon teaching evening classes, designing mazes and later came the writing of text-books, though this did apparently cause the children some worry; they had visions of their parents being involved in some form of espionage! This led to a greater involvement with the Mathematical Association which was to lead later to Pat’s final job. Going to Maths Association Conferences also led to Mary and Sarah bullying their parents into doing something for young mathematicians, which led to the family founding SYMS – the Society of Young MathematicianS which rapidly grew to over a thousand members. The SYMS newsletter, SYMmetry, still exists though its now amalgamated with another journal and all run under the auspices of the Maths Association. Involvement with the Association led to a lot of work writing mathematical software for schools and to a contribution to an International Congress in Budapest in 1988.

At the Maths Association conference in Cambridge one year, Pat heard of a part-time post at the City of London School for Girls. Since the family had recently moved to their third house in Orpington, now near the station, commuting to the city was feasible, and Pat took the job. She was very happy at City, later going full-time and then becoming Head of Mathematics. Her then headmistress has written of her inspirational promotion of the subject, her exceptional creativity and ability and her great kindness to many individuals. Pat was later joined in the commuting by Sarah; some of the commuters were probably rather fazed by the avid mathematical discussions which would take place at 7.30 in the morning!

Multiple sclerosis had been diagnosed in 1989 when the girls were teenagers and eventually Pat was forced to give up work as the disease slowly took over. She continued to be much involved, via the computer, with things mathematical, and took much delight in the successes of her daughters.

A succession of carers and Martin were eventually defeated and Pat took the decision to move to Derwent House Nursing Home in August 1999, a couple of days before her 54th birthday. She was excellently cared for there but the disease is inexorable, and she passed away peacefully on 23rd November 2002 at the age of 57.

Mum will always be an inspiration to me.

If I can be even half as good, and half as intelligent and inspirational, as she was, then I will have lived a good life.

Current Mood: contemplativecontemplative

6 comments - Leave a commentPrevious Entry Share Next Entry


Date:November 23rd, 2010 11:15 am (UTC)
I only knew her for such a short time, but she was indeed inspiring. Calm, brave and brilliant.
You are the best legacy she could have hoped for. You ARE good, intelligent and a wonderful inspiration.
You are the best and she would have been even more pround of you now than I know she was then.
Date:November 23rd, 2010 11:35 am (UTC)
She sounds like a wonderful person. Thinking of you. Wow, what a sad day, a sad week really, for my friends...
Date:November 23rd, 2010 08:38 pm (UTC)
What a lovely tribute and what a wonderful woman your mother was.

Date:November 23rd, 2010 11:31 pm (UTC)
Your mother seems a wonderful and awesome person. *hugs* I'm sorry she passed away so early.
Date:November 27th, 2010 06:02 am (UTC)
Lovely! You are wonderful; sounds like she was too.