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Remembering Jenny Clarke


Remembering Jenny Clarke, a wife, a mum and a grandma, but many people in Penkridge will remember her as the little Teacher at Marshbrook School who taught them in their first years at that school, or their children, or even grandchildren.

Her funeral was held at St. Michaels Church, Penkridge, on the 23 November 2010, when a full church of family, friends, colleagues and neighbours Celebrated her Life. 

Below are reproduced the two addresses that were given in the Church - the first by Jenny's son-in-law, Gerry Plant (but which Su, his wife and Jenny's daughter, helped write), and the second by Mike Dawson, who for many years was the Head at Marshbrook School.  Reading these, we hope, will help many of you remember Jenny and make you smile - she would have liked that.

Jenny took every opportunity to celebrate, no matter how small, so we were told at the funeral to celebrate her life and to thank her for the joy she had brought to so many people's lives.   We all tried to do our best to do her proud and later that day many celebrated with a meal and a bottle of pink fizz.



"To Teach is to Touch a Life Forever"

Gerry and Su's words

As well as bringing laughter into people's lives, the perfect word to describe Jenny was "selfless".  She would do anything to make your life easier whilst often making hers harder or busier.  She never stopped!  She was the most caring, wonderful lady and we are all so lucky to have known her.  I'm sure that everyone listening to (now reading) this, will have their own thoughts on how much Jenny will be missed.

Family meant everything to Jenny and she took great comfort from knowing how much she was loved.   She'd had a good life and told us often.  Grandchildren's memories include being squeezed so hard that they couldn't breathe whilst she stroked their hair and said "taisse toi" over and over again - she did this to John too apparently!  One of her other favourite sayings was "c'est tout ce passe" - and she was always right, it always did pass!  Her greatest gift/legacy, although we didn't have the opportunity to say goodbye, was the fact that I KNOW that she loved me and was proud of me, no matter how small the achievement.   Aspire to be like her.

She loved to talk and knew minute details about everyone's life - even if she had only just met them!  She told you detailed and complicated stories as if you should know who she was talking about!   She knew everything about everything even when she didn't and would quite often make "facts" up to fit her own agenda - real facts and Jenny facts!   Sauna (sonar) and duvet (dewvay).   Classic Jenny quotes (otherwise known as advice to Su) include "you're not wearing knickers/nail varnish like that to school are you" whilst holding the offending item aloft and - "your shoes are making my feet ache".   She refused to even acknowledge the belly button piercing or Ottie's tongue bar (even though Su was over 40 before having it done!).  There was no doubting that she disapproved!    "Jenny, you'll be very pleased to know that Su has taken absolutely no notice of your advice - just look at those heels!"   Texts came at seven every evening, often describing in detail what she and dad had had for tea - even governors asked at meetings what she'd eaten that day!   Even holidays were described by the meals that had been eaten!  Su is trying her best to match up to her high standards - reference to dad and "it's not how your mum would have made it!"

Many of you will have noticed that there is an owl on the order of service.  This was one of Jenny's other passions and her house and garden are full of them!  The owl in question was called Plop and belonged to Jenny's daughter Su.  He was named after the main character in one of her favourite books by Jill Tomlinson, "The Owl who was Afraid of the Dark".  This links nicely to another passion of Jenny's - books, hence the request for donations to the "Book Fund" at Princefield School - and another passion which was of course, teaching.  Her long and successful career touched the lives of many children and inspired a lifelong love of reading for many.  She became a governor at Princefield so that she was able to give something back - this sums up her selfless nature!.

Jenny was prepared for everything, even death.   She had made a list of her wishes which began with "the cheapest funeral possible!".  We have tried hard to adhere to all of these although Jenny was sure to have thought of all the little details that we haven't managed to!  She had enough medicines to start her own branch of Boots and could offer you a remedy for any medical ailment!  Many of you will be pleased to know that Jenny had started her Christmas shopping early with many presents already wrapped and labelled!  If only she'd started the pickled onions we'd have been happy but hey, no one's perfect not even Jenny!  We're trying to encourage John to take up sewing so that the cards can keep on coming!

The parrot sketch - fall off my perch suddenly!  DEAD!

Mike Dawson's words

After training in Bristol, Jenny taught in Wolverhampton and at The Whitgreave School, Featherstone, before coming to Marshbrook as a Supply teacher. She was appointed to the full-time Staff in 1974, and retired in 2002. 28 years of commitment to Marshbrook and to the families of Penkridge.

She was a skilled, serious and dedicated professional, who combined these developed talents with a sensitive and intuitive response to the needs of individual children.  She was totally committed to her work.  On falling down the front steps at lunch-time one day, she gathered-up her broken teeth, wiped off the blood and went back into the classroom for afternoon school.                        

Jenny lived in the village, shopped in the village, worked in the village, was a villager; chatted with parents around the village, (not just at School), understood and empathised with their needs and aspirations…….

Jenny enjoyed contact with parents. She was  practical  and ‘down-to-earth’,  talking in a common-sense language.  A former pupil, now a parent himself, said recently, “Mrs Clarke told it to parents how it was.” This wasn’t intentionally abrasive, nor aggressive, but the truthful facing of the facts, the only basis for a productive discussion in determining the right course of action for the pupils concerned.

Jenny was Loyalty personified. Loyalty to the pupils in her care, whether they were high-fliers or with Special Educational Needs; Loyalty to friends and Colleagues; Loyalty to the Marshbrook family; (and I was one of the beneficiaries of her unswerving loyalty, for which I shall ever be indebted).

Eight years ago, many of us attended Jenny’s retirement gathering.  At that celebration I had the opportunity to give a thanks. I said then, “There was so much hard work throughout those years and, out of that work, so much fun. Oh, didn’t we enjoy ourselves.   Didn’t we laugh .”….  And Jenny created so much of the laughter.

Having spoken recently with former colleagues, the many memories I bring with me today, of Jenny’s excellence as a teacher, colleague and friend, are all bound together with the joy that was generated by laughter. She had a special gift for remembering and relating the ridiculous. Whenever and wherever you met her, she would regail you with a  memory of things that had gone farcically wrong in the past.

A five day educational visit to the South-West, back in February 1975, had so many farcical situations attached to it that she wrote the script for the first Turkey Supper Cabaret, which involved a Zummerzet faaarm labourrrerrr  leading a bale of straw around the hall floor on a rope tether. Jenny featured as a short, plump fairy, what else, at the side of the gangling 6ft.7ins Ron Banner who froze in the spot lights. The dress-rehearsals bound staff and parents into lasting friendships…. And provided year-long laughter throughout the school.

Her sense of the ridiculous was not confined just to others; she was aware of her own shortness of stature, and was prepared to play it for laughs. Telling the story of when she and John visited the Lake District. She described how they found themselves at the hotel, in a large bedroom, with a very large, high 4 poster bed. How to get into bed was the problem for Jenny. It had to be, she said, a run and a jump and a grab for the top covers ….

Jenny had a superb ear for picking-up conversations and phrases, and was brilliant at repeating, mimicking what had been said. She would recount in the Staffroom how one of her more demanding pupils, who required encouragement and reproval in varying ratios, came to her at the end of one day and said, “I ai been a bugger today ave I Mrs?”    Other children talked about the ‘Pewter’, when they were referring to the ‘Computer’; one child in her class said he liked her ‘Uncle Emma’, which turned out on that rainy day to be Jenny’s umbrella.  And always the Christmas Play story: the first child, as Wise Man number one, brought gold to baby Jesus, the 2nd child came in and said “Frank sent this.”  (3rd Myrrh)

Jenny was immensely proud of the success of Marshbrook, she was a Cheerleader for the school over many years; she reminded people of its successes, of the warm family atmosphere that existed.   She had excellent work relationships with other staff.   Jenny made you feel special.  She was an important ingredient in the glue that bonded the Marshbrook family together.

The final words are the last 2 verses of a poem written by Jean Smith for Jenny’s retirement, but rephrased by her for this service:

“We worked so hard, we laughed a lot,
There’s so much to remember,
You kept us cheerful throughout the year,
Right up until December.”

 “You went too soon, we’ll miss you so,
But now it’s time to rest,
We’ll try to smile, we’ll say goodbye,
                                       You really were the best!”