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In Memoriam: Mrs B. Jane Way (nee Whitehead)1944-2023

Published on 29/11/23

In Memoriam: Former Head of Geography and Careers, 1979-2002

Mrs B. Jane Way (née Whitehead) 1944-2023

The chalk country of southern England was Jane's favourite landscape type and it seems that she had an early awareness of it, having been born and brought up close to the heart of it in Farnborough on the Hampshire-Surrey border. Educated at Farnborough Grammar School for Girls, Jane thoroughly enjoyed her school days and had many fond memories of them, including occasional field days to the Hog's Back near Guildford, which impressed her greatly. Jane was a good all-rounder, applied her mind conscientiously and became Head Girl in her Upper Sixth year.

Jane's Head Mistress informed her parents that she had 'certain solid qualities' that probably made her a more suitable applicant to Cambridge rather than Oxford. The advice was followed and she was accepted to read Geography at Girton College, Cambridge, matriculating in 1962. Significantly, this was the year that the Cambridge Department started to teach the so-called New Geography. Jane's cohort was the first set of UK undergraduates to experience some aspects of Geography as a spatial science, heavily reliant on modelling and statistical analysis, rather than the earlier focus on regional description.  The Cambridge years were key for Jane, expanding her horizons in many ways. She made new friends for life, travelled abroad for the first time to the Swiss Alps, where she studied active glaciation in the field and gradually shifted her interests more to the human aspects, particularly Historical Geography. She developed a real talent for research and in her Finals year won the Departmental Prize for her dissertation (Regional Essay) on Dorset water meadows, later published as a paper in the Dorset 'Proceedings'. Her Girton Tutor proposed her and she was accepted as a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, which she supported all her life.

After graduation, Jane relocated to Bristol University for teacher training on the Dip.Ed course. In the Spring Term of 1966 she carried out teaching practice at Marlborough Grammar School, Wiltshire (all boys) and impressed to the extent that she was offered a full-time 11-18 post in the Geography Department with Years 7 and 8 Latin to make up the timetable. She established herself quickly as a hard-working and effective teacher in all year groups and helped develop the fieldwork programme in the Upper School. On the recommendation of her Head of Department, Bill Turner, Jane joined the Geographical Association, attending its Annual Conferences at the LSE during the Easter break and its local Wiltshire branch, which put on extra-curricular activities for staff and students. She was always ready to give extra time for her pupils and she transferred her local membership to the Cambridge & District Branch when she joined The Perse School for Girls. Jane loved living in Marlborough and Wiltshire, staying in post for thirteen years and adding new responsibilities, during which time the school gradually moved towards becoming a mixed comprehensive.

In January 1979, Jane was appointed Head of Geography at The Perse School for Girls, taking over from Miss Rosemary Tice who remained in the Department part-time. Leaving Marlborough was made easier by returning to Cambridge and Jane re-established many former contacts with Girton and the Round Church, as well as embracing her new school role with gusto. She made it clear that she had high expectations and expected the girls to meet her challenging targets. Years later, as she was approaching retirement, one of her Upper V1 students, (Helen Mytton-Mills) wrote, 'She was blessed with a sense of efficiency never to be rivalled, a fantastic ability to chat and a great sense of humour. She always gave up her time at the drop of a hat to help with the many and varied school events and willingly took students on field trips. On these trips, pear drops were a 'must' as well as wellies, walking boots and pencils because "pens don't write in the rain" - neither do students… and, as she always stuck to her purpose whatever the weather or the situation, we did too'. Jane's trips to Malham Tarn Field Centre in North Yorkshire were a legendary rite of passage for Lower V1 geographers. Only on the steeper slopes did Jane's walking prowess occasionally falter. Leading a small party of Lower V1 students, she became stuck half-way up a rock scramble at the side of the Gordale Scar waterfall. A colleague later wrote, '… Jane and I often chortled over the large hand of a Yorkshire Dales National Park Ranger, which, when planted firmly on her rump, got her safely up the waterfall!". Student reactions were not recorded at the time.

Jane's colleagues also held her in high regard. Mrs Mary Dicken, Head of History, taught in the next-door classroom to Jane's. In 2002, she wrote, 'Jane is a person for whom the word meticulous could well have been invented. Her beautifully presented records and notes were often worthy of a wider audience and when it came to displays, she was mistress of the well-placed drawing pin, the perfectly shaded-in map with instructive arrows, all logically arranged'. The success that Jane's students achieved was, to a large measure, enabled by her beautifully constructed worksheets with sketch maps and explanatory diagrams reaching an artistic standard that drew the student in to read, observe and understand. Her handwriting was clear and simply beautiful, often drawing plaudits. The advent of clear, affordable photocopying enhanced Jane's productions, but she never took happily to computing and the then coming technological revolution; she knew where her strengths lay and she continued to produce her hand-written worksheets until she retired in 2002.

Jane also became involved with careers advice and in time took over full responsibility from Margaret Chamberlain. Again, as Mary Dicken noted, 'she kept amazingly detailed records so that students could discover instantly when, for example, Bristol had sent out offers in the previous year, what they were and whether applicants had succeeded. She also gave students realistic but kindly advice and was endlessly patient with their inability to meet her administrative heights'. She also joined with the Religious Studies Department to plan and execute a highly successful trip to Israel and Jordan to visit the Holy Land and Petra, taking along her eldest Godson who created some bafflement and suspicion amongst the Israeli border officials as the only young male in an otherwise all female party. Jane's attempts to explain the unknown concept of a Godson also created a few difficulties.                  

Jane had a remarkable facility for attracting and keeping friendships going, visiting friends and inviting them back from Scotland to the West Country during the school holidays. For most of her teaching life Jane remained single and was always 'Miss Whitehead' - she claimed she had just never met the right person to wed. So it was with surprise and great rejoicing in the staff room when, some time in 2000, aged 56, she announced that she was going to be married to Tony Way, who had once taught Geography at Hills Road Sixth Form College in the 1980s and, with his wife and young family, had been her near neighbour in Cherry Hinton. They had all originally met at The Round Church. He was now Head of Geography at Reigate College in Surrey. Tony's marriage had ended a few years earlier and, after many years of exchanging news on Christmas cards, he and Jane met up again, becoming 'an item' in the early summer of 1997. They married in August 2001 and Jane decided to complete one more year of teaching (now as Mrs Way) to see through an Inspection to be held in 2001-2002. Jane and Mary Dicken retired on the same day in July 2002. After speeches and presentations, Mary had prepared her own 'Leaving Award' certificates which she duly presented to several members of staff. Jane's citation read 'To Jane Way - For meticulous lists which lesser women can only envy but never aspire to'.

In retirement, Jane and Tony based themselves at Jane's Cherry Hinton house, but during holidays often transferred to Tony's Redhill flat. Tony continued to teach until 2008, so was based at Redhill during the working week, commuting back to Cambridge at weekends in the early years. Jane tended her garden, kept good church attendance, stayed in touch with school colleagues and friends and deployed her organisational skills in arranging trips to many parts of Britain and the world. Country walking, National Trust properties and visiting London for galleries, concerts, museums and RGS talks were all enjoyed. Whenever possible, stays with old Girton friends would be arranged in Aberdeen, Penzance, Somerset and Alverstoke (Gosport). Jane and Tony loved travelling, often visiting remoter areas such as the Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland, Iceland, the Norwegian Fjords, Alaska and Svalbard, the last three on cruises.  In 2012, they visited India, a truly fascinating experience, including glimpses of the snow-capped Himalayas from Shimla. Jane particularly loved Italy in Europe and most regions were eventually visited, including Sicily. In 2007, Jane returned to half a term’s A level teaching, standing in for Tony’s departmental deputy, who needed time out to look after her husband. Once again, Jane and her worksheets rose to the occasion with thanks and appreciation. Meanwhile, Tony’s daughter and son started families with their respective spouses. Firstly, in Exeter, two granddaughters (2009 and 2011), followed later by two more in Hove (2019 and 2021). Jane loved being an ‘honorary Granny’, granting her a family experience she never thought she would see.

Around 2013, it started to become clear that Jane's memory issues were beginning to impact on her daily life and on those in contact with her. At first, life continued as usual, apart from increasingly repetitive conversations. Alzheimer's was correctly suspected, although there was no official diagnosis until early 2019. Jane had to cease driving in 2017, a particular frustration for her initially. A final long no-fly cruise was taken to Brazil and the Caribbean in early 2018, enjoyed and managed well by Jane as the ship did all the travelling for her in comfort. During the first Covid-19 lockdown she lost mobility and was taken into residential care in Redhill where she remained happily, visited frequently by Tony, family and friends, for the next two and half years until a major stroke put her in a coma in mid-January 2023, followed by her death in East Surrey Hospital on 3 February.