Tributes to ‘inspirational’ Suffolk teacher who has died at 81
PUBLISHED: 18:00 11 March 2020 | UPDATED: 12:31 12 March 2020
Mother of EastEnders actor ‘knew how to connect with bored teenagers who didn’t want to work’
The outpouring of affection on Facebook says it all. Dawn Stanton, who taught well into her 70s, had died and generations of ex-pupils were shocked and saddened.
'She was just lovely,' writes Samantha Kett. 'She just knew how to connect with bored teenagers who didn't want to work and make us really look forward to her class.'
Christine Whiting: 'Such a wonderful woman, fabulous teacher and her spark for life and fun was infectious.'
There were the little things that meant much (Katie Morley: 'She was the best - always sharing her Maltesers and cooling spray') and the heartfelt (Sophie Helen: 'She sang to me on my second day of high school and I've never forgotten it').
The 81-year-old has left a legacy anyone would be proud of. One of the words that keeps popping up in cards to daughter Sophie is 'inspirational'. The retired teacher certainly was.
Dawn Waddington was born in 1938, above a Doncaster pub run by her mum and dad. She was the middle child of five. The family switched to another pub in the town after the war. Moves were a feature of childhood, as her parents turned their hands to different things.
Dawn's favourite school was at Towyn in north Wales, when they lived on a farm. She found the school inspirational and fought to stay, eventually having to live independently of her family. She excelled and became head girl.
At university in Aberystwyth Dawn studied French, falling in love with the country and language. She relished a year in Tarbes, in south-west France, as part of her course.
And then she became a French teacher, in London. She met husband-to-be Cedric Stanton, an art teacher and Croydon boy, 'across a staffroom, and that was it', says Sophie.
'Both were very creative thinkers. Both were incredibly insightful about children as individuals. Kids just responded to them.'
East Anglia calls
Sophie was born in 1970. In 1973 the family moved to Suffolk, after Cedric got a job at Debenham High School.
'Both absolutely fell in love with Suffolk. Why? The landscape. And the Suffolk sky! I had a very happy childhood because they were so happy here.'
The family lived initially at Onehouse, and after about six years moved to Stowmarket - close to the high school. Dawn's first job in Suffolk was at Great Finborough primary, then Stowmarket Middle.
She joined Stowmarket High School in the late 1970s - teaching French, mainly - and stayed.
Sophie has found ex-pupils' love for her mother 'really extraordinary, and I think that is to do with her humour, her generosity, her compassion. She valued children's ambitions'.
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Sophie remembers a former pupil who would visit Dawn. He hadn't particularly shone academically but had dreamed of running his own coach company. And did. 'Mum was so proud of him.'
She loved teaching. 'I used to watch her walking home at lunchtime and she was always smiling. There had always been something that had tickled her.'
Dawn's daughter found her inspirational, too. 'She facilitated who we wanted to become,' says Sophie, who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and has been a professional actor for about 30 years.
If she had a child of her own, she suspects she'd be fearful if they harboured ambitions of going into the business. 'If Mum ever had that feeling, she never showed it. She was utterly encouraging. She also left me to do it on my own. She didn't push anything.'
Sophie's theatre résumé features spells with the Royal Shakespeare Company, while TV credits include Midsomer Murders, Ashes to Ashes, and Silent Witness.
Since 2001 she's had a recurring role in EastEnders, too - as DCI Jill Marsden. Storylines have included the shooting of Phil Mitchell, the murder of Archie Mitchell and the death of Lucy Beale.
'Mum came to see almost everything I was in' - and did watch those EastEnders stories, without being overly-fussed about the show!
A valiant mum
It's remarkable that Dawn could be such an amazing teacher, as she had to contend with chronic ill-health for years.
After diabetes was diagnosed in 1977 she reacted badly to bovine- and porcine-derived insulin. 'It led to hallucinations,' recalls Sophie. 'She would see and believe extraordinary things to be true - like a jumbo jet having crashed into the front room. It was tough for the whole family.
'Her diabetes was like that for about 15 years. And then a better insulin was developed and life improved for her.
'And then my dad died.'
That was in 1994. Cedric was only 57.
'My mother was valiant with disease and valiant with grief. In defiance of widowhood and grief and sadness, she decided she would learn Italian and visit Italy.
'She got A* GCSE Italian when she was a pensioner!'
Dawn retired officially in the mid-1990s but worked as a supply teacher until she was 75. 'She wanted to carry on. She used to say to me 'Never retire!',' says Sophie.
The funeral is at West Suffolk Crematorium, at 3pm on Tuesday, March 17. No flowers. Donations to Diabetes UK welcomed.
Last word goes to one of those Facebook posts. Shana Stinnett wrote 'Rest in peace, you wonderful woman. She was one of the reasons I still had hope for humanity.'