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Rachel Ansari obituary | Educating

April 17, 2023
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My mother-in-law, Rachel Ansari, who has died aged 75, was a primary school teacher, traveller and trailblazer for inclusivity who travelled to India in the 1970s, riding a bicycle through Hazratganj, the heart of Lucknow, and choosing always to wear a sari.

Rachel was born in Taplow, Buckinghamshire, the youngest of three children of Richard Kennedy, a children’s book illustrator, and Olive (nee Johnstone), a librarian and linguist. Rachel was often drawn by her father and, aged nine, by the family friend Stanley Spencer. When she was a child she was taken to a specialist doctor who diagnosed her with Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, and stated loudly, to her mother’s anguish, that Rachel would not live to adulthood. Fortunately Rachel did not hear, and confounded medical expectations.

She attended the Abbey school in Reading and then studied South Asian history, with a fourth year learning Hindi, at Soas University of London. After graduating she travelled to India to carry out a historical and social study of Awadh, Uttar Pradesh.

In Lucknow she met the scholar Iftikhar Azmi Ansari – a Muslim, Sufi poet and writer – when a friend suggested that he would be able to teach her Urdu. They were married in 1973 and lived with his extended family in his ancestral home and village of Jaigahan, Jaunpur.

Their two daughters were born in England, and though the family lived in India for the rest of the 70s, in the early 80s they returned to Berkshire, where Rachel taught in primary schools in Hounslow and Slough.

Rachel Ansari’s drawing of Boyne Hill school, where she worked, is used as its logo

She also worked throughout the 80s at The Teachers’ Centre, Maidenhead, combining her inherited artistic talent with her Hindi and Urdu to develop ways of supporting children with English as an additional language. For 15 years until she retired in 2003 she taught at the Boyne Hill C of E infant and nursery school, Maidenhead, specialising in language support.

Her illustration of the Boyne Hill school buildings and children, drawn to mark its 2003 centenary, is still used as its logo. In the early 90s the school also asked Rachel to organise “an event which would bring in more of the community”. Her “Asian Spring Evening” of music, song, poetry and dance proved popular and ran for several years.

After Iftikhar died in 1994, Rachel returned to her childhood home to care for her widowed mother. There she was reacquainted with her childhood friend Christopher Palme, a retired social worker, and they married in 2009. A highlight of their retirement together was a weekly play-reading group hosted by Rachel in their home.

She is survived by Christopher, her two daughters, two stepdaughters and six grandchildren.

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