Deirdre Heath 1946-2020
Deirdre Heath, who died unexpectedly in May, graduated from Manchester University as a Teacher of the Deaf in 1968. She then joined the staff at Portley House School for deaf primary-aged children in Surrey before accepting a peripatetic post in Northamptonshire, her home county. She gained valuable experience here and could be seen driving to schools, clinics and homes in her much-loved Spitfire.
She was appointed Head of Service for Deaf Children in Harrow in 1973 where she was tasked with setting up a Service for Hearing Impaired Children. Working closely with her counterpart in neighbouring Barnet, she quickly built a Service that garnered the respect of her managers and set her sights on creating a new preschool unit and parents’ programme. Resource bases followed, at Cedars First and Middle School, Hatch End High School and Shaftesbury MLD School.
Right from the start, Dee’s approach to leadership was innovative, lively and collaborative. She was a huge influence on everyone she worked with. She organised and participated in numerous conferences and joint training sessions to support her staff, always encouraging them to learn and develop their skills. She was an inspiring coach and mentor who put her trust in people to take on responsibility, even persuading one of her colleagues to learn to drive so she could take on a peripatetic role. She connected parents and families with hospital consultants, speech therapists, universities and charities.
Deirdre always wanted, and expected, the very highest standards of achievement for her hearing-impaired children, a conviction that led her to embrace technology. She took part in multiple hearing aid trials and she fought to make sure her children had access to the latest innovations. Usually, her combination of persuasiveness, drive and charm prevailed. She led the transition from body-worn aids to post-aural and radio aids, including an early trial of infra-red aids. She brought in the first speech analyser to be used in a primary school; it was hooked up to an oscilloscope and was powered by an Apple 2 computer. Since at that time computers were still a rarity, this caused quite a stir.
Dee was an influencer, always looking for new ways to share ideas and make a difference. Her formidable energy, her intelligence, her warmth, her joie de vivre, and her signature glamour all had a profound impact. She brought a lightness to her work, and created an atmosphere where people felt supported and appreciated.
Her deep love and care for her family, her husband John and her children, shone through in everything she did. She wanted the best for them, and for anyone who was lucky enough to be under her care.
Although she took official retirement in 1994, following a debilitating car accident, Deirdre continued to contribute to our profession. She worked as a school placement tutor, supervising students on the Teacher of the Deaf courses at Birmingham, Hertfordshire and Oxford Brookes Universities, helping them to find their footing and get established in their new profession. Countless ex-students owe her a legacy of gratitude for the encouragement and practical advice she gave them.
She continued to be an advocate for children, becoming a Trustee of the charity Babies in Prison, later being elected as Chair. Her role included visiting prisons, working with major prison charities and lobbying MPs. In 2009 and 2010 with her Barnet colleague, she visited Ugandan prisons, travelling by motorbike, working on literacy and art projects with mothers and babies. She also went as a Consultant to schools for the deaf in Sierra Leone advising on Early Years.
One of Dee’s most endearing qualities was her incredible knack for turning colleagues into lifelong friends. Arising from the annual Heads’ Conference, Dee was instrumental in establishing a supportive and much-valued Bubbles group, to provide a counterpoint to the stresses of working life. Over 25 years and meeting each month, we explored over 250 London venues including exhibitions, galleries, museums, shops for retail therapy and restaurants, usually with wine and always with uproarious laughter. Some of the highlights of our time together include visits to Oxford, Banbury, St. Albans, Brighton, and Cambridge and further afield to Warsaw, Krakow and Berlin. In Southwold and Montpellier Dee was a wonderful host, ensuring we had a memorable and fun time. On one occasion we went to Lille for lunch, meeting at Waterloo Station. Sadly excitement was deflated on learning that the early morning Eurostar had been cancelled. However, typically, Dee sweet-talked the Station Master and we were upgraded to first class with champagne on the next train!
Dee was always lively, amusing, elegant and interested in everybody and everything she did. She was a wonderful colleague and a loyal friend. She will be profoundly missed.
Bubbles (Susan Knowles, Mollie Kennedy, Pauline Hughes, Valerie Standen, Margaret Kumsang and Ann Bradbury).