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Claire Newman: Tributes to a devoted mother and to a caring, committed and compassionate teacher

On Monday (Jan 30), Claire Newman's family will mark what should have been her 50th birthday by planting a rose in her memory.

The secondary and primary school teacher adored her garden at the Bishop's Stortford home she shared with husband Robin and their three children, George, 17, a sixth-form student at Saffron Walden County High School, and eight-year-old twins Martha and Rose, who attend Northgate Primary School.

The open space was a solace to her after she was diagnosed in October 2021 with pancreatic cancer – and as her illness progressed, she nurtured plants which will bloom this spring.

Claire Newman (62020417)
Claire Newman (62020417)

The garden is just a small part of the legacy she leaves her family and friends following her death at home on December 7.

Claire, from Bushey Heath, and Robin, from Cambridge, met at the start of their first year at Bristol University, where they were studying English and geography respectively.

After they graduated, completed a masters and enjoyed something of a gap year, they studied together again, with teacher training at Homerton College in Cambridge. They began their careers with Claire taking a job in Watford and Robin working in Saffron Walden.

In 1999, the couple visited Bishop's Stortford for the first time and decided the town was the perfect mid-point and the right place to settle.

Claire taught English at Herts and Essex High School from 2010 to 2015. Executive head Cathy Tooze said: "She was highly thought of and hugely valued, making significant contributions to the school's outstanding results and reputation.

"Claire's hard work ethic and high standards were very much in tune with the Herts and Essex ethos and the school missed her when she decided to leave after having her lovely twin daughters.

"Her head of English at the time announced the birth of the twins in a staff briefing and joked that she had decided to name one 'Herts' and the other 'Essex', before telling us their actual names! Claire will be remembered at Herts and Essex for many years to come."

When Claire returned to teaching, she joined Northgate primary, where she shared her passion for music with pupils.

Head Jane Tanner said: "Claire Newman had a long connection with Northgate, first as a parent with George and the twins, and then as a teacher.

"Her kind and caring nature always shone through. She had many good friends within the local community and had a close bond with many staff here, having taught part-time at Northgate, leaving in August 2021.

"Singing was one of her passions and she shared this talent at school when she was our music teacher for three years, with songs from Matilda being particular favourites. It was always a joy hearing her beautiful voice singing from the hall.

"Her knowledge of English was amazing and she would always be on hand to help with story writing or explaining some complex grammar.

"Everyone that knew Claire will miss her greatly. We are delighted to have Martha and Rose still at Northgate, both who share Claire's positive attitude to life."

Just before she became ill, Claire was part of the team at Hockerill Anglo-European College.

Principal David Woods said: "We were excited to welcome her as she brought a rich and diverse range of teaching experience plus a deep knowledge of English literature.

"It quickly became apparent to Claire's students and her English department colleagues that she offered so much more than just being an excellent teacher.

"Claire was committed to helping her students achieve everything that they possibly could and would do whatever it took to challenge them to go beyond what they thought was possible.

"Claire also showed incredible compassion and care for her students so that they felt both academically and emotionally supported. This meant that students could enjoy lessons feeling safe and secure in their learning environment and willing to go on a literary adventure.

"Claire made a remarkable contribution to the college and its students in a short period and her loss has been deeply felt."

Initially, Claire believed the discomfort she felt while exercising might be a hangover from Covid-19, but tests at Harlow's Princess Alexandra Hospital revealed she had a tumour. She was referred to London's Royal Free Hospital to begin chemotherapy.

Robin, now a head teacher in Hertfordshire, said: "We both knew that would only shrink the tumour at best and there could be no surgery. We knew it was not going away, but there was a chance it could be controlled."

However, in the summer, it was clear that the treatment was not helping and Claire decided to move to palliative care with support from the NHS district nursing team, Isabel Hospice and Bishop's Stortford's Hummingbird Cancer Support Group.

Robin said: "We made the decision it would be about managing the symptoms and making the best of the time left."

One of Claire's key aims was to see George safely through GCSE exams at St Mary's Catholic School in Windhill and she was so proud of her first-born's success.

Robin said: "George was amazing in terms of coping. George knew they were going to lose their mum and the girls knew their mum was not going to get better.

"But you don't know how you are going to cope with anything until you have no choice. You have to deal with it."

He said that his wife's courage set an example: "Claire made no complaints about being ill – by being cross and angry and raging, she would have used energy. Instead, she used that energy to focus on her family and friends, who were everything to Claire."

Her aim was to leave a legacy of happy memories. She found a new talent in crafting, and at her funeral in Bishop's Stortford's Church of St Joseph and the English Martyrs on December 23, the twins carried crochet bags made by their mum, Robin wore a poppy she made and many mourners sported her handiwork, while more still celebrated Christmas with decorations she created.

Claire planned the service, picking readings including Rudyard Kipling poem The Glory of the Garden, which were read by friends, and bidding-prayers read by her twin daughters.

Her musical choices included performances by her colleagues in Bishop's Stortford Choral Society, who performed hymns and songs including Sting's Fields of Gold, while George played Victorian Kitchen Garden by Paul Reade on the clarinet.

The twins are learning to play the piano and, in a last message to their beloved mum, George promised: "We are going to keep making music."

Robin said: "It was a celebration of Claire's life, despite being a desperately sad occasion."

After her health deteriorated quickly, Claire passed away at home while her daughters were sleeping and with Robin, George and her mother Diana at her side. She also leaves a brother, Steven, and a sister, Helen.

The family has requested donations to Isabel Hospice in Claire's memory to https://www.isabelhospice.org.uk/donate/.

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