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Are You Mrs Winton’s Son?

November 7, 2010

…you cannot camouflage death with words. Always at the end of the words somebody is dead. Richard Brautigan

MumIt’s so easy to forget that there is so much more to being a teacher than grades and targets and new initiatives. Teachers are people first and foremost, and are granted the rare privilege of being able to help shape young people into the adults they will become.

When we are born, we all have so much potential, and it is given to teachers to unlock that, to shape it, and to form it into something better. There is no finer calling, and we do well to remember that teaching is one of the most demanding, and yet most rewarding, jobs there is. I am one of a long line of teachers in my family. My mother was a primary teacher, her parents were both teachers, her grandfather was a headteacher. My sister is a primary teacher and it’s only my brother who has managed to avoid the family trade… so far!

Mum Jean and PatMy mum was a real character. She was one of those legendary teachers who coupled traditional teaching values and ideas with a love of music, Mars bars and tablet. Rarely a week goes by without someone asking me: “Are you Mrs Winton’s son?” Something I am proud to acknowledge, such was the impact she had on so many people’s lives. Of course, hearing so many people say lovely things about my mother reminds me of the immense force for good a teacher can be.

My mum was born in Rosyth in 1937 and named Katharine Marjorie Ellen Smith… but woe-betide anyone who called her anything other than Kate! Her father — who I recently found out was a pupil at the school I now teach at — was rarely at home as he saw War Service in the Grandad 1944 HaifaRoyal Artillery seeing action in the Desert Campaign. On being de-mobbed, he became a Chemistry teacher before dying young of a heart attack. My mum, bless her cotton socks, also took a commission in the Territorial Army, though as she readily admitted, this had more to do with having a laugh with her friends and being taught how to drive for free! She sat her driving test in a Bedford RL, and I’ve often thought that had a lot to do with the way she drove for the rest of her life…

Mum Teaching Cert SmallI find it fascinating that she qualified as a teacher in 1957… 3 months shy of her 20th birthday! She started her teacher training at the age of 16… something that I think would be impossible to do today. As well as her primary qualification, she was also qualified to teach Music and Needlework. Needlework!?! But music, that was one of the great loves of her life and was part of what lead to her being such a memorable teacher.

Not long after qualifying, mum upped sticks and headed to a teaching job in Hong Kong. I am still amazed that she had the guts to move to the other side of the world to work, but am also profoundly glad she did because she met my father, Willie, who was working as a Purser for P&O, on the trip out. There is an inevitable romance associated to the days of the great liners poughing their trade across the world’s oceans in the days before air travel really took off, though to listen to my mum and dad talking, you’d think it was one eternal Gin and Tonic!

Morag Me Mum B FerryMy parents moved back to Scotland and married in 1962. Within a few years I appeared along with my younger sister and brother. Appalled at the thought of looking after her own kids full time, mum took a job teaching other people’s kids at Eastern Primary School in Broughty Ferry. The Ferry was a great place to live, not least because it had a fantastic beach which my mum encouraged us to make maximum use of. She was also making a name for herself at the Eastern. This was my first school, and I recall two things about day one: I was in room 7, and I was really pleased that I didn’t cry…

In 1970, mum moved up to the newly opened Barnhill Primary school. as well as being a new school, it had a wonderful stage which gave mum the opportunity to really shine. Unimpressed by the school’s script for Aladdin, mum decided to pre-empt CfE by writing her own version… and adding a host of songs she really liked rather than the anodyne pap in the original. The resulting panto is legendary. Barnhill Primary’s version of Aladdin received rave reviews in the Evening Telegraph, but also introduced a host of P7 pupils to music and dance and laughter to the extent that the show had to be put on again… and again…

Mum and Dad AustraliaAnd then we moved to Perth in 1977 and mum moved to Craigie Primary. That year Craigie Primary put on Aladdin. Fast Forward 30 years, and I was getting double glazing upgraded by a local firm. Derek, the Managing Director of the company, looked in to see how the work was getting on, and had been in the house for less than a minute before he asked the question that has followed me through my adult life: “Are you Mrs Winton’s son?… I was the Grand Vizier in Aladdin!” There’s no getting away from the impact my mum had. A successful business man who has raised a firm from small beginnings to a multi-million pound turnover, and one of the best experiences he had at school was playing a part in my mum’s school panto. And of course, he is not alone. I think every bit of work in my mum and dad’s house has been carried out by ex-pupils… often with a discount because they were doing it for Mrs Winton. Plumbers, joiners, hairdressers… all manner of trades have shown my mum kindness because they loved her as a teacher.

Mum And Dad - Wedding 1962“Are you Mrs Winton’s son?” I’ve heard that question so many times, and I’m so proud that I have. I often wonder if my dad knew what he was getting into when he married my mum. When you marry a teacher, you are also marrying into a whole school and community, and for me, it is a constant reminder of the privilege we enjoy as teachers. We are permitted to play a small part in forging the adults we will grow into, and I hear daily what a positive impact my mum played on so many people. I tried to work out how many children my mum must have taught over her career. It’s easily over a thousand. That’s a thousand people who will make a decision that has been in some small way affected by my mum’s influence. That’s a thousand people who could surprise me at any time by asking: “Are you Mrs Winton’s son?”

Mum Primary 7 CarnmorePS DunfLearning is important in my life and my family and this is something I learned from my parents. I know my mum was immensely proud last November when she was able to see my brother graduate top of his MSc Class, especially as she had been unable to attend his BSc graduation. That gave her the full set after attending my sister’s graduation and my own.

Early this year, her Alzheimer’s became progressively worse. She was admitted to Murray Royal hospital for a short observation period, then returned home. On the 6th June, she collapsed and was hospitalised then transferred to Murray Royal again. She was transferred to a specialist dementia unit at Blairgowrie Cottage hospital until it was closed because of cuts in funding. She returned to Murray Royal, and over the past few weeks has steadily declined.

Mum12 days ago, we were told that her condition was terminal, however, this was no surprise as we had seen her cognitive abilities disappear frighteningly quickly over the course of the year. I had always believed that dementia meant a slow decline. I was wrong.

I received a phonecall at 7am two days ago letting me know that we might want to come and see mum for the last time. For the past two days, my dad, brother and sister and I have been a permanent fixture at mum’s bedside. We have been immensely and profoundly moved by the kindness and generosity of the staff at Murray Royal. People often say they couldn’t do my job when they find out I am a teacher… but my job is nothing compared to the nurses and doctors in a dementia hospital…

As I quoted at the top of this post, “…you cannot camouflage death with words. Always at the end of the words somebody is dead.”

My mother died today.

43 Comments leave one →
  1. Natty permalink
    November 7, 2010 6:29 pm

    What a lovely heart felt blog! You mum sounded like the best teacher in the world, she appeared to have the impact that some of us can only dream of having.
    I hope that although this time will be hard you cling on to all the good memories. You are in my thoughts.

  2. caroline breyley permalink
    November 7, 2010 6:48 pm

    What fabulous memories of the teacher that we all aspire to be, you are so lucky to have them. I am sorry for your loss but thank you for sharing this and hope the sharing gives you comfort.

  3. Louiw permalink
    November 7, 2010 6:52 pm

    What a wonderful tribute. Your mum will have meant so much to so many, it was very moving to read, thanks.

  4. November 7, 2010 6:58 pm


    So sorry to hear about your Mum. A moving and heartfelt tribute. Take care – thoughts from many, many people will be with you and yours tonight and onwards.

  5. November 7, 2010 7:03 pm

    What a wonderful tribute. She sounds like a wonderful woman who touched the lives of so many. Thoughts and prayers with you and your family.

  6. Vicki permalink
    November 7, 2010 7:16 pm

    Wow – some amazing memories to have and such a moving blog entry. Thank you for sharing this. Thoughts are with you x

  7. Krysia permalink
    November 7, 2010 7:32 pm

    Just want to let you know Neil that I’m thinking of you and your family, although words cannot camouflage death I hope that our words can bring a little comfort for you and your family.

    Take care, Krysia (and family)

  8. November 7, 2010 7:48 pm

    So sorry to hear your news Neil. I hope that you and your family stay strong during this time. My thoughts are with you.


  9. Julie permalink
    November 7, 2010 7:55 pm

    My thoughts are with you and your family. What a fabulous blog post, a fitting tribute to such an inspirational woman.

  10. Shirley Price-Jones permalink
    November 7, 2010 7:59 pm

    What a moving tribute, beautifully illustrated with text, images, love and pride. My thoughts are with you ‘Mrs Winton’s son’.

  11. A Lee permalink
    November 7, 2010 8:19 pm

    Was a honor to read your Mum’s story, thank you for sharing her story. My thoughts are with you at this sad time.

  12. Lynne permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:07 pm

    Sorry to hear of your loss Neil, but what a moving tribute, thoughts with you all.

  13. Andy C permalink
    November 7, 2010 9:30 pm


    Sorry to hear of your loss – a very moving tribute. You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  14. November 7, 2010 9:35 pm

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  15. November 7, 2010 11:12 pm

    Wonderful post,Neil, on a sad occasion. Your mum would be proud. Prayers for you and the family.

  16. November 8, 2010 12:54 am

    Thank you to everyone for your kind thoughts. My mum was something else… as you have no doubt realised. Being able to share even a fraction of who she was is the least I felt I owed her.

  17. Iain Hallahan permalink
    November 8, 2010 1:12 am

    So sorry to hear about your loss Neil, your mum sounds like she was an amazing woman and fantastic teacher. My thoughts are with you.

  18. November 8, 2010 1:22 am

    That is a lovely, loving tribute. My deepest sympathies for your loss.

  19. Ruth Paterson permalink
    November 8, 2010 1:30 am

    Truly beautiful words. she sounds like an amazing woman and she certainly passed the good teacher gene down to you, my thoughts are with you and your family.

  20. Scottishteacher permalink
    November 8, 2010 7:37 am

    What a lovely tribute to an amazing woman. She will be missed by many. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  21. Candy permalink
    November 8, 2010 9:59 am

    What an incredible woman and a beautiful tribute. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  22. mike reid permalink
    November 8, 2010 10:39 am

    Hi Neil, you may not remember me I’m a friend of Gordon’s from PHS. So sorry to hear about your mum passing away. I have fond memories of her when we used to hang out at your house in Craigie. She was always a bright light and her humour was always contagious. My thoughts are with you.

  23. November 8, 2010 11:30 am

    Thanks Mike. Of course I remember you and how could anyone forget the nights around the table in Wilson St. There was many a bottle of whisky cowped there!

    The funeral will be this Friday if you want to come along. You will be very welcome.

  24. November 8, 2010 11:49 am

    Mrs Winton would be very proud in way you are carrying torch on too.

  25. Wilf Wilson permalink
    November 8, 2010 3:51 pm

    Life is precious, and lives are precious. Thank you for reminding us of that in such a moving way, Mr Winton.

    Your mother seems to the one of those people who represents the best of humanity. I hope that fact can provide some comfort for you and your family.

  26. doug folan permalink
    November 9, 2010 9:41 am

    sitting here reading this with a tear but also a smile. remembering that your mum was always smiling, enthusiastic & I don’t think I ever heard her get upset about when Gordon, myself, Alec or Pitts came back from an under-age drinking spree in Perth!! or the new year celebrations at various houses when we would be singing away.

    I’m still disappointed that I never took her up on her offer to sort out my handwriting. Something I will always regret.

    please let me know what the arrangements are for Friday?

  27. Ali Hoffmann (Rose) permalink
    November 9, 2010 10:20 am

    Lovely words Neil. She will be sadly missed by so many people but most of all you, Morag, Gordon and of course your dad. You are very lucky to have had such a special mum. In my head, Auntie Kate, is still the mad woman playing the piano with my cousins behind her on the trombone, guitar and euphonium, with the dog howling and uncle willie on the whisky. She then dragged me off to the Sound of Music when she realised (heaven forbid) I was 10 years old and had never seen the Sound of Music. Being a teacher is a life, not just 9-5 job and I feel honoured to have known her. She has a special place in my heart. My thoughts and hugs are sent from downunder. Ali x

    • November 9, 2010 10:35 am

      Hi Ali,

      I know we’re all feeling Mum’s loss at the moment, but we are also smiling lots at the many madcap things we got up to. I know she always had a special place for you and Melinda in her heart… Even if you were a late convert to The Sound of Music ( we had no escape, and I suspect I knew the words to “How do you fix a problem like Maria…” before I could write them!)

      I’ll make sure dad and everyone else knows of your thoughts.

      Love to all!

  28. November 9, 2010 10:29 am

    Hi Douglas,

    Funeral is at Craigie Church this Friday (12th) at 3:15pm. This will be followed by tea and scones (and possibly a dram 😉 ) at a venue to be announced later.

    We will be going to the Cremmy for a private bit then joining you for the Blethers.

    You will be very welcome, in fact, I think mum would have been annoyed if you guys weren’t there!

  29. Alan & Catherine Pitts permalink
    November 10, 2010 10:49 am

    Willie, Neil, Morag & Gordon.

    We were so sad to hear about your Mum and I am sure she would have been proud to read the heart felt comments you wrote.
    Kate was a big part of our childhood and left her mark with everyone who knew her. We have lots and lots of happy memories.

    We are sorry we will not be able to be there on Friday but we will be thinking about you all.

    Love and kindest regards to all

    Alan, Catherine, Hannah, Imogen & Harry.

    • November 10, 2010 7:59 pm

      Thanks Alan,

      I’ve passed your kind thoughts on to dad and he is very touched. We will have a dram for mum on your behalf…

      Take care and love to all.

  30. Gordon permalink
    November 10, 2010 8:00 pm

    Sorry for hijacking your blog to say thanks very much to everyone who has left comments on Neil’s post. It is a fine tribute to a woman who I will always be proud to call mum. I am sure that, in time, the raw emotion of the past days will dissipate to leave the memories that you have described.


  31. george lyness permalink
    November 10, 2010 9:27 pm

    prayer for healing…

    and god shall wipe away all tears from their eyes;
    and there shall be no more death,
    neither sorrow, nor crying,
    neither shall there be any more pain:
    for the former things are passed away.

    revelation 21:4

  32. george lyness permalink
    November 10, 2010 9:30 pm

    At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember her.
    Love George

  33. Steven permalink
    November 11, 2010 5:13 pm

    Mrs Winton. What can you say? Simply the best teacher I ever had! My mum called me on Tuesday to tell me the horrible news (I’m in London now). Wish I could be there tomorrow to pay my respects, but it’s just too short notice!

    She had such an impact on my life (and many others) that I can still remember the last time I saw her – it was about 8 years ago & we were just walking past her house when we wondered if we should go and say hello. We thought ‘yeah, why not!’, so we knocked on the door and ended up staying for an hour or two, catching up! Glad we knocked on the door that evening now.

    Thoughts and prayers tomorrow, Mr Winton’s Son.

    Lots of love,

  34. Elizabeth Potter permalink
    November 12, 2010 11:51 pm

    Dear Neil,
    I’m so sorry that we are getting in touch in such sad circumstances. My family and yours had lost touch and I only rediscovered you all when I decided to “do” my family history about 2 years ago. I phoned Kate and she sounded just as she had in the early 1950’s when Dorothy , Kate ,Pat, and Dot had a family holiday at Lunden Links. My family then were Gwyn Tuckett , Dorothy’s cousin, and my mother ,his wife, Mavis and my two brothers David and Iain. Of course we’ve all grown up and got partners or wives or a husband as in my case and children.
    I found Joyce first and she has kindly sent me the link to your appreciation on Fliker.
    So my father’s mother Margaret Myles Tuckett nee Main, my grandmother , was Ella’s
    sister. She married William Easson and her first child was Dorothy.
    Dorothy came to our wedding in 1961 !
    When I phoned Kate I think she must already have been feeling not quite right and I am so very sorry not to have met you at an earlier stage .
    However maybe one day . I live in the New Forest .
    meanwhile I have much appreciated your story of your family and Kate and hope we will meet some time
    Best wishes

  35. Barbara Hill permalink
    November 14, 2010 2:43 pm

    Neil, I was so sorry to read about your mother’s death and very touched by the beautiful picture you painted of her in your blog. She would be proud of you.

  36. Norrie permalink
    November 23, 2010 11:01 pm

    Neil, This is a fine tribute to a wonderful lady who we will all miss dearly. The photographs brought back so many happy memories of earlier days.
    Love to all.

  37. April 12, 2011 4:30 pm

    What a fantastic tribute. She seems like an amazing lady who touched the lives of so many. Thoughts and prayers with you and your family.

  38. Dawn Carlos permalink
    September 29, 2011 12:10 am

    I am Dawn Carlos nee Anderson and I was also in Aladdin with Derek! I was the Mad Fairy! I often bumped into your Mum over the years and was so sad to hear she had passed, I would have liked to have come to the funeral to pay my respects to such an inspirational woman! This is not without trepidation as this is the woman who put me behind the blackboard with a keyphonics book as I was not paying attention to punctuation! Your Mum was, I believe, my inspiration to apply after High School to Drama and Dance school both of which I am told I am very good at! I have toured Scotland teaching dance and I am about to embark on a further Acting course this year at the RCS! She was amazing and someone who touched me and has stayed with me throughout my life, as a good teacher should, you should be very proud! My Mum and Dad always spoke of her fondly, and I think the only teacher throughout my life they have remembered! I have many memories of her, one was walking your dog Boots, (very much not allowed now) and I still remember the fear as she unleashed the wrath of the school belt her Father had owned, on the school desk at Craigie PS in 1986/7 🙂 Aladdin was a moment in my life when I decided that I wanted to do this, (acting) laughed at as I was, but Mrs Winton was always encouraging and every time I met her and chatted, I think she was pleased I had followed that path.

    • October 26, 2011 11:36 pm

      Thank you so much for your kind words. Mum would have been so pleased to have heard what you were up to. She was always so proud of the achievements of ‘her’ pupils… I often think that, once you had been taught by her, you were hers for life, even if just to her. 🙂

  39. October 27, 2011 12:04 am

    Today would have been my mum’s birthday. In a couple of weeks , it’ll be a year since she died… And it hurts just as much today as it has for the past year.

    I know it’s a natural thing, to lose your parents, but no-one ever said it would hurt as much. Much of the past year has been a blur for me. I stopped functioning properly not long after she died, and it has been a long hard lonely road back to being healthy enough to return to work. I am aware that much has changed for me since I lost my mum. I have grown much closer to my dad, and I cannot even begin to think what he is going through today and for the next few weeks. Nikkii, my partner, means everything to me and I cannot conceive of her not being a part of my life. I try so hard to be worthy of her, but come up short so many times… It’s tough.

    I remember one of the last coherent conversations I had with mum while she was still capable of talking ‘normally’. She told me of something I had taught her, something I hadn’t appreciated at the time, but which obviously meant a lot to her.

    I must have been about 14 at the time, and was convinced in that way that only a teenager with a raging hormonal imbalance can be, that she hated me and only cared about my younger brother. I cannot recall what started the blow up, but I remember storming out of the house ever so melodramatically and yelling at her that she was always getting on at me and criticising… but she never hugged us. My mother could be incredibly hard on us at times 🙂 This incident obviously stuck with her more than it did me at the time, for it was about this that she talked to me when I visited her on one of her first in-patient stays at Murray Royal. She thanked me for teaching her to hug. She admitted that she had sometimes been too hard on us… but that was typical of her… and it was wonderful as well, because she was hard on us because she wanted the best for us. She was the same with everyone. She wanted everyone to be the best they could be…

    We did get more hugs, and especially when we went to visit after growing up and leaving home to make our own way in the world.

    I have a meeting after school tonight, and then I have to get home to Nikkii and the kids to help get the house ready for one of our legendary kids Halloween parties… But between work and home, I’ll be making time to nip in and see my dad. I suspect I’m not the only one who needs a hug today.

    I miss my mum.

  40. MarkInglis permalink
    August 4, 2012 11:19 pm

    Hello Mr. W, I was a pupil of your mum’s at Barnhill Primary in the 70’s, I’m really sorry to hear of her passing away, I lost my own mum in the early 90’s and I can relate to all that you have said.

    I have vivid memories of your mum looking like she did in the photo above of you with her on Broughty beach.

    I can clearly remember sitting in her class with her playing her acoustic guitar and us all singing the Harry Belafonte song “Come back Liza”, she used to call other teachers and anybody else passing the classroom door to come in and listen to us, she really loved that song and so did I!

    I also remember doing some kind of musical at Barnhill, I don’t know if it was your mum that was organising it but I do remember her being on the stage in front of me at one of the rehearsals, I was dressed as a cowboy and the song we were singing was “4 wheels on my wagon”. I’ve no idea what the musical was about but I do remember it was a big deal in the school at the time and was very busy at the performance/s.

    Another memory that comes to mind is your dad coming to the classroom window one day and I could tell that something important was going down as they talked through the open window, just after he had gone there was a blond haired teacher from the classroom across the corridor came in and asked what was up, your mum announced “Mr. Winton has been sacked!”, I had no idea what that meant at the time but had images of your dad with a cloth sack over his head or that may have been something your mum told us to make the situation humorous … :).

    I really can’t remember any of my other teachers clearly or their names but funnily enough I did go on to have a fascination with music, performing and events. I spent many years as a singer and musician performing at events/clubs/holiday camps etc. all over the UK and Ireland, trained as a sound/recording engineer in the early nineties and that’s what I still do today along with repairing/setting up guitars and other stringed instruments. I still perform now and again but mainly now it’s organising and setting up sound for all manner of events from musical theatre to sports events. When people ask me when I started getting into music I can’t say for sure but my earliest memory of REALLY enjoying music was singing “Come back Liza” with your mum.

    We moved away from Broughty Ferry to stay in Troon on the West Coast in August 1976 when I was 9 and I’m still here today … 🙂 We ran a very successful fundraiser last year involving all five of Troon’s primary schools in a big show to raise money for Poppyscotland and thought’s of the show at Barnhill popped into my head many times during the rehearsal and show, infact anytime I see kid’s performing on stage I remember Barnhill … 🙂

    I’m amazed at finding this blog, I was searching for pictures of Barnhill Primary to show my own children and was really excited at getting google maps streetview pics of my old house in Gairloch Road.

    It’s been really fascinating to learn more about your mum’s life and of course what the rest of you have been up to, you must be a similar age to me.

    Wow, I may still have pictures somewhere waaayyy in the dark depths of the attic that your mum may be in, I’ll have a good rummage next time I’m up there and if there is any I’ll make sure you get a copy … 🙂

    I’m very sad to hear of your mum passing away, it may well be that it was her that planted the performance seed in me, I’ve tried many other jobs in my time but always end up: on, under, behind or at the side of stages in one capacity or another.

    Just about to organise a Halloween party for the local kid’s and the next large local event that I’ll be at will be the live@troon festival.

    Anyway, It’s been a while since much was happening on this blog, if you see this please let me know.

    All the best


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