Gerald Ilsley - inspirational Spalding headteacher and charity worker - dies, aged 93

Audrey and Gerald Ilsley
Audrey and Gerald Ilsley
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A man who brought joy to so many in South Holland has died, aged 93.

Gerald Ilsley was headteacher of two primary schools – Moulton Chapel and Whaplode Street (which became Spalding Primary School) – and founder, with wife Audrey, of the Age Concern day centre in The Meadows.

In a lifetime of service to the community, his peaceful passing on Monday has been met with an outpouring of 
affection and condolences on social media.

His death was announced by daughter Jane Pincott (61) who described her father as “a simply wonderful man”.

Jane said: “This is sad news to share but not tragic...it is the end of a long life lived full of service to others, fun and great love of his family. We will miss him tremendously.”

Born in South Yorkshire in September 1923, Gerald Ilsley was the son of a coal miner in a working class family.

He completed National Service during the Second World War, then returned to South Yorkshire to train and work as a teacher.

He met wife Audrey when she was just 17 and the couple were married after the end of the war in 1946.

The couple moved to Moulton Chapel with their young children, Christopher and Jane, when Gerald secured his first headship, at the village primary school, in 1956.

He was also heavily involved with Moulton Chapel Methodist Church, where he played the organ, and ran the WI Choir, who frequently rehearsed in the Ilsleys’ front room, much to the younger family members’ chagrin!

The family also hosted the village annual Bonfire Night celebrations in front of the school.

Mr Ilsley became headteacher of Westlode Street School in Spalding in 1968, where wife Audrey, his “absolute steadfast person by his side” was school secretary.

“There was no in-service, formal training in those days,” said Jane, who along with her brother, was inspired by her father to become a teacher.

“Dad saw it as his responsibility as a leader to see his teachers progress and was committed to growing a good staff team.

“ He would be at the school gates morning and afternoon and had the most amazing memory for names. He knew the name of every pupil and still did long after they had left.

“I think it helped that Mum was secretary, as parents perhaps told her things that they might not otherwise have done!”

Mr Ilsley oversaw the building of the new Spalding Primary School, before taking early retirement in his 50s.

But ‘retirement’ was a rather a misnomer, as he and Audrey set about founding the Spalding branch of Age Concern and resourcing funding for the charity’s building in The Meadows. Work which was recognised when Mr Ilsley was awarded the MBE for service to the community in 1998.

“It was the start of the next chapter,” said Jane. “At first, meetings were once a week at the cottage, not like the great set-up they have now.”

In addition to the work that went into the Age Concern centre, Mr Ilsley also served as an independent councillor, was a town husband - a trustee of a charity responsible for providing relief and assistance to the poor and needy - a board member for the almshouses, organist at St Thomas Methodist Chapel and a long-serving member of South Holland Singers.

On stepping back from his many roles, Mr Ilsley was still highly active in the community, playing badminton and riding his bike into town until well into his 80s.

“Dad did exercises every single day, until his body wouldn’t let him.“ said Jane.

“Although physically incapacitated by Parkinson’s [disease], his mind was still sharp until near the end and he was still able to communicate with us, although it was difficult.”

Mr Ilsley died peacefully at home, with his wife and ‘wonderful’ carers by his bedside.

“He was an awesome guy and an amazing father,” said Jane.

• The funeral service will be held on Tuesday May 23 at noon, at South Lincolnshire Crematorium. The family would like people to know that the service is open to anyone “who would like to celebrate Gerald’s remarkable life - it won’t be doom and gloom” and afterwards at The Mermaid, in Surfleet.

If you would like to attend, Jane has asked that you drop her an email at ejanepincott@gmail.com - simply so she can get an idea of numbers.