Jean Robertson obituary

My grandmother, Jean Robertson, who has died aged 91, was an activist, teacher and community builder who spent her life giving back and helping others.

Born in Deptford, south-east London, Jean was the daughter of Constance (nee Barker) and Alfred, a factory worker. She had a brother, Alfred, and two sisters, twins Muriel and Marian. Aged two, she moved with her family to Welling, Kent, where she was to live (save for evacuation and some adventures abroad) for the rest of her life.

She left Dartford grammar school in 1947 and qualified as a chartered secretary in 1952, spending several years using her writing and arithmetic skills at organisations including C&A, John Lewis and the Institute for Psychoanalysis. In 1958 she sailed on the Saxonia from Liverpool to Montreal and spent 18 months working in Canada. She was a remarkably free-spirited person, defying the orthodox expectations of a young working-class woman.

After three years as an assistant lecturer in accounting at Gravesend Technical College, Kent, in the mid-1960s she embarked on another adventure, this time to Malawi, to teach accounting at the university in Blantyre. There she met John Blain, a Gambian businessman, and they had their daughter, Antoinette, in 1966.

She returned to Britain and trained as a teacher at Avery Hill College in Eltham (1969-73), later specialising in teaching children with disabilities. She taught at Woodside school in Barnehurst (1978-80) and then the Howbury Grange Technical school in Slade Green (1980-91), where she also became head of the special needs department.

Jean also attended protests and supported numerous causes. She campaigned against nuclear weapons at Greenham Common and instilled a strong feminist ethic in her daughter and granddaughter. A long-time socialist and member of the Labour party, Jean was chair of the Bexley branch of the National Union of Teachers in the 80s and a founding member of the Bexley Council for Racial Equality.

She was instrumental in developing the Danson Youth Trust, in Bexleyheath, volunteering there for over 30 years. Jean had the opportunity to meet the Queen for her services to education, and in 2021 she received a Civic Recognition of Outstanding Achievement award from the London borough of Bexley.

In her retirement, she learned to fly a glider plane, went white-water rafting and visited Antarctica. She loved reading, going to the theatre, playing bowls, travelling, playing bridge, singing, spending time with family and engaging in conversation. She adored her nieces and nephews and was close to her grandchildren, playing an instrumental role in their upbringing.

Jean is survived by Antoinette, her grandchildren, Remy and me, and by her sisters.