My sister, Val Knight, who has died aged 82, was a memorable reception class teacher at Shiplake primary school, near Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire. More than 30 years after leaving her class, many of her former pupils still recall her exploits, methods and demands with an affection and fondness few teachers can claim. As knowledge of her death circulated among her former charges, they created a Facebook page entitled “Mrs Knight – Matriarch of Shiplake Primary School”, a remarkable tribute to the importance of one teacher in the lives of so many people.
Born in Kingston-Upon-Hull, east Yorkshire, Val was one of the four children of Bill Mowforth, who worked for the Ministry of Pensions, and Monica (nee Lazenby), who held a variety of clerical jobs. Because of the threat of bombing during the second world war, the ministry – and our family with it – moved to the Fylde in Lancashire, although Bill was shortly afterwards drafted into the RAF.
Val went to Fleetwood grammar school then took a degree in English literature at Leicester University in the late 1950s. From there she made her way to London, where in 1962 she married Barry Knight, a national service colleague of our brother, Paul. She also became personal secretary to John Chaloner, founder and CEO of the publishing company Seymour Press. It was there that Val began to form her love and knowledge of children’s books, on which she soon became an authority.
Val and Barry moved to the village of Shiplake in the mid-1970s. She continued to work for Seymour Press for a few years, but then decided to pursue a career in teaching. After gaining a PGCE, she got a job at Shiplake primary school.
After her retirement in the late 1990s, Val remained active at the school as a governor but also became a key figure at the Henley Oxfam bookshop where she and others developed an award-winning outlet. She became renowned for her organisation of the annual Oxfam Christmas dinners and her house became a repository for items destined for either of the two Henley Oxfam shops.
Her ability to process and transfer these items to the shops failed to keep pace with her acquisitions and so her house became a treasure trove of weird and wonderful artefacts and thousands of books. She left a house full to the gunnels of stuff.
Barry died in 2008, and our brothers Paul and Mark also predeceased her. She is survived by me, and by six nephews and nieces.
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