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Former RAF pilot and renowned teacher dies aged 93

The young airman training in Florida

The young airman training in Florida

A man who watched the Battle of Britain as a boy and vowed to one day fly like those brave pilots in the sky has died aged 93.

After retiring to BecclesAfter retiring to Beccles

Jack Stedman, who spent the last two decades of his life living in Beccles after falling in love with Suffolk, died on July 13 after a longer life than he ever imagined.

Born in Lewes, Sussex, Mr Stedman was a boy when the Second World War broke out and watched the planes from the South Downs where he made his vow to learn to fly.

And before the war ended he achieved his ambition and got his pilot’s wings in the RAF at the age of 18.

It was there that he met his wife Betty, an Oxford girl who had joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and was an aircraft fitter at RAF Carew. They married after the war and lived with her parents in Oxford while Mr Stedman did his teacher training at Culham College.

Together they had two children, Jane who passed away a few years ago, and George who still lives in Beccles with his family.

His son George, 66, said: “His first job on qualifying was at a tough school in a deprived part of Oxford. He recalled being told a pupil couldn’t come to school one day because “she swallowed a sixpence and we can’t afford to lose it”. The school was so challenging he felt like giving up his career before it had really started.

“My grandfather, Bill Collett, himself a deputy headteacher in Oxford, talked him out of it, saying he should hang on for something better. He took the advice and moved up through various jobs until he was offered the headship of a unique school at the Park Hospital, a neuro-psychiatric unit in Oxford.

“Children with the most intractable psychiatric problems would come there to have placements sought for them, often where all else had failed. Turnover was high and normal curriculum teaching was impossible. It was more important to get to know the pupils, typically in a short time frame and in a way that the doctors, who may have been mistrusted, could not.

“He became an expert on teaching children with epilepsy and travelled around Europe visiting schools, lecturing and speaking at conferences, as well as writing articles, including in the Times Educational Supplement.”

George said his father was a life-long socialist, being at times a member of the Labour Party and held various offices within the National Union of Teachers, eventually becoming secretary of the Oxfordshire division.

After retiring he left Oxford which he had become “devoted to” in his work to live near his family in Suffolk. Mr and Mrs Stedman had a weekend cottage in Gillingham for many years and in 1998 they bought a house in Beccles and spent the last two decades of their lives there.

George said: “They achieved a long and happy life together until my mother died a few years ago. My dad was devastated at losing her and I realised he had never lived on his own before. When he left home the RAF had been his family and except for the conferences he and my mother had never spent a night apart before.

“My mum, with great foresight, had trained him to look after himself, giving him lessons in cookery and housekeeping. He took to it well and strove to keep his mind.

“The Times crossword every day and regular sessions of Sudoku were his mental exercises, as well as copious reading of political biography, history and, for recreation, crime thrillers. His independence was commendable and he was still driving to the shops at the age of 92, before his sight finally went.”

Mr Stedman moved to Oaklands care home in Reydon when he became ill three months ago.

His son said: “On his 90th birthday he said to me “not only have I never been 90 before, I have never known anyone this old”. It was a sign of the extraordinary times we live in.”

Mr Stedman’s funeral will be held on Monday, July 30, at Waveney Memorial Park and Crematorium at Ellough at noon.

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