Jean Robertson, my grandmother, who passed away at the age of 91, dedicated her life to activism, education, and community-building, always striving to give back and help others.
Jean, born in Deptford, SE London, was the daughter of Constance and Alfred, a factory worker. She had a brother, Alfred, and twin sisters, Muriel and Marian. After moving with her family to Welling, Kent at the age of two, Jean spent the remainder of her life there, except for some overseas travels.
In 1947, she graduated from Dartford grammar school and, in 1952, became a chartered secretary, utilizing her math and writing skills for firms such as C&A, John Lewis, and the Institute of Psychoanalysis. In 1958, she sailed from Liverpool to Montreal on the Saxonia, spending 18 months working in Canada. Jean was an independent, strong-willed woman, defying traditional expectations for a working-class girl.
In the mid-1960s, she transitioned to teaching accounting as an assistant lecturer at Gravesend Technical College, after which she embarked on a new adventure to Malawi to teach at the university in Blantyre. While there, she met John Blain, a Gambian entrepreneur, and had her daughter, Antoinette, in 1966.
Upon returning to England, Jean trained as a teacher at Avery Hill College in Eltham (1969-73), specializing in children with disabilities. Afterwards, she taught at Woodside school in Barnehurst (1978-80) and eventually became the head of the special needs division at Howbury Grange Technical school in Slade Green (1980-91).
Jean was active in issues she believed in and joined protests for various causes. She protested against nuclear weapons at Greenham Common and encouraged her daughter and granddaughter to embrace feminism. She was a lifelong socialist and Labour party member, serving as the chair of the Bexley branch of the National Union of Teachers in the 80s and helping to establish the Bexley Council for Racial Equality.
She played a key role in the development of the Danson Youth Trust in Bexleyheath, volunteering there for 30 years, earning her both a meeting with the Queen for her contributions to education and a Civic Recognition of Outstanding Achievement from the London Borough of Bexley in 2021.
In retirement, Jean took up new interests like glider flying and white-water rafting, even visiting Antarctica. She enjoyed reading, theatre, bowls, traveling, bridge, singing, spending time with family, and good conversation. Her nieces and nephews were dear to her, and she had a close relationship with her grandchildren, serving as a critical influence on their upbringing.
Jean is survived by her daughter Antoinette, her grandchildren Remy and myself, and her sisters.