A primary school headteacher has been laid to rest in a coffin covered in drawings created by her pupils, after she died following a short battle with cancer.
Beloved educator Sue East was just 58 when she died on 19 December 2018, and a heartbreaking final letter she wrote to her pupils from her death bed inspired their touching tribute.
‘Fairy dust to be found’
On the day she died, Mrs East wrote to her pupils telling them she was “going to die” soon and thanked them for their “joy and friendship”.
Within the emotional letter, Mrs East quoted a passage from CS Lewis’ 1952 novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, comparing death to sailing over the horizon in a small, round boat.
At the end of her letter, she wrote, “Never forget there is fairy dust to be found in every situation, no matter how difficult.”
On Wednesday (16 Jan), almost 700 pupils, ex-pupils, parents and staff members gathered at Bath Abbey to say farewell to the former headteacher of St Andrew’s Church School in Bath.
Both past and present pupils of the school sang at the funeral, and covered Mrs East’s coffin with drawings of fairies, butterflies, love hearts, rainbows and ‘fairy dust’.
Students said that they “loved” their headteacher in the tributes, describing her as “fun, lovely, exotic, glittery, the best teacher, kind, caring, taught us to believe in ourselves, sprinkled fairy dust everywhere.”
Her colleagues described as “an extraordinary friend and colleague”, and “bonkers, as all brilliant people are.”
Mrs East’s three children, John, Susannah and Josiah East, each gave touching tributes to their mother, alongside readings from staff members, close friends and Reverend Simon Holland.
Her eldest son, John, told those at the service how his mother loved to refer to children as “creatures”.
He said, “Mum lived freely and selflessly. I am humbled to have received a love so unconditional. Mum didn’t just love us, she loved all the ‘creatures’ she worked with.
“They were here today, celebrating mum’s life. She would not think she is more important than anyone here.
“I would encourage you to live your lives with love to all people.”
An inspiration to others
Mrs East’s joint deputy headteacher colleagues, Tam Stephen and Jayne Rochford-Smith, also paid tribute to their “inspirational” friend, commending her for creating a family-like community at the school.
Tam said, “She has created not just a wonderful school, she has nurtured and led a whole community.
“We often refer to ourselves as a family, with Sue as Captain Kirk at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.
“We all agree that Sue made a difference. She campaigned for creativity, inclusion, diversity and equality.
“One cannot help but fall in love with her and the school she so proudly led.”
Fellow deputy headteacher, Jayne added, “It is fair to say that she was a pioneering and creative force in primary education. She was immense.
“She shared her expertise at a national level. She co-founded Schools Without Walls.
“She called the WhatsApp group we were all in the ‘chief fairies WhatsApp group’.
“We still feel she is still present here today. She empowered us all.”