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Ilse Ryder obituary | Arithmetic

April 4, 2023
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My friend and former colleague Ilse Ryder, who has died aged 94, fled to the UK from Czechoslovakia just before the second world war and later became a maths teacher in the London area, working in that role until her retirement in the early 1990s.

Ilse was born in Brüx in Czechoslovakia, the only child of Ernst Stein, a lawyer, and his wife, Elise (nee Grunfeld), a mathematician. Her parents separated when she was seven, after which she moved to Vienna with her mother and then to Prague in 1938.

Ilse and other Jewish children were airlifted out of Prague to London in January 1939 by the Barbican Mission to the Jews. There are photos of 10-year-old Ilse arriving at Croydon airport in a beige coat and pixie hat, looking determinedly ahead with her penetrating dark eyes and holding tightly the hand of a young boy, Peter Needham, who became a friend for life.

Some months later her mother followed Ilse to Britain, finding work as a domestic servant in Blackheath, south-east London. Initially Ilse was brought up by missionaries and then attended several church schools, staying with her mother at weekends. At 17 she won a scholarship to St Hugh’s College, Oxford, from where she graduated with a degree in mathematics.

Ilse Ryder arrived in the UK at the age of 10. Despite being unable to speak English at the time, seven years later she won a scholarship to Oxford University

She worked first as an actuary before doing some Oxbridge entrance coaching for pupils at a school in Suffolk and then, in 1956, becoming a maths teacher at Cheadle Hulme school in Cheshire. There she met Leslie Ryder, a fellow teacher, and they were married in 1958.

After a move in the late 60s to London so that Leslie could become an inspector for the Inner London Education Authority, Ilse taught at Wandsworth school until switching to Kingston College of Further Education in 1976, where we worked together and where her responsibilities included oversight of Oxbridge applications from the mathematics department. She also played a key role in initiatives to encourage teenage girls to move into science and engineering, staying at the college until retirement in 1992.

Ilse was a determined woman with insatiable curiosity, particularly for music, literature and politics. Even in her late 80s she would travel alone to Austria to a Schubertiad, or to Dubrovnik to hear her favourite performers, the Capuçon brothers. Just before Covid-19 she relearned Czech and travelled alone to the Czech Republic to be part of a family reunion in front of the house in Brüx where she had lived as a child. She also volunteered for a range of charities focused on the needs of refugees, and did campaigning work for the Labour party.

Leslie died in 2007. Ilse is survived by their two sons, Nick and Jon, and two grandchildren, Matt and Charlie.

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