Jean Horton OQ – Memories shared by OQ Anne Dearle
Thursday 2 December 2021
After the sad passing of Old Queenswoodian Jean Horton on the 21st October, Anne Dearle (BEM) - OQ and former Chair of the OQA, shares her memories of Jean's long and distinguished life.
Those of us who have known Jean Horton for decades, will no doubt recall her as multi-talented, focused on her outstanding career, numerous interests and unfailing support of Queenswood – what she lacked in height, she certainly made up for by her intellect, vitality and boundless enthusiasm!
Apparently her determination to study medicine and follow in the footsteps of her eminent father (a brilliant doctor and surgeon), became evident at the early age of 5. The story goes, too, that as an 8 year old, having been reprimanded for poor handwriting she casually dismissed the criticism by saying that it didn’t matter, as she was going to be a doctor!
Her successful career at Q (between 1934-1943), was immediately followed by medical training at University College, London and the West London Hospital, after which she qualified in 1948, becoming an anaesthetist, specialising in anaesthesia for neurosurgery and plastic surgery after injury or illness. Possibly, the younger generation in 2021 will take this as being ‘normal’ after a medical training, but way back in 1948, for a female to achieve such immediate success in that particular field of medicine was phenomenal.
Thus began a distinguished career during which, over a period of 35 years, Jean worked for the NHS in London (Great Ormond Street, the Royal London), Leicester, East Grinstead (where no doubt her expertise was invaluable whilst working with patients needing plastic surgery), Edinburgh and Cambridge.
Jean subsequently enjoyed 18 months’ work in Lagos, Nigeria, as she had always wanted the experience of working abroad before she retired. However, in 1983 an even more exciting opportunity was offered by an old friend, who became the Foundation Professor of Anaesthesia in the Faculty of Medicine of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), where a new Medical School was to be established at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Shatin in the New Territories - an invitation to be his colleague was certainly an opportunity not to be missed!
Whilst there, a new challenge lay ahead, as Jean, with her indomitable spirit, endeavoured to learn enough Cantonese in order to communicate with patients (in spite of the Professor of Surgery’s comments that “all that an anaesthetist needed to say was ‘Go to sleep’ or ‘Wake up and breathe!’) Although Jean certainly didn’t lack the enthusiasm to succeed, unfortunately she lacked the time to learn the Chinese characters so, undaunted, she learnt them, using a Romanised text of each word.
As a Senior Lecturer there, Jean was responsible for undergraduates, post- graduates, nurses and operating department assistants. Thankfully, though, in spite of a heavy daily work schedule, Jean found time, amongst other recreations, to socialise with friends and sing with the Hong Kong Bach Choir.
During that period of time, she also helped to organise the sixth Australasian Congress of Anaesthesiologists and the fifth World Congress of Accident and Emergency Medicine and helped to found the Hong Kong College of Anaesthesiologists. Holiday trips to mainland China, Japan, Burma, Singapore, Australia and Sabah undoubtedly widened Jean’s experience of life. To say that she certainly made the most of every opportunity which came her way during her fascinating career, is an understatement!
Once Jean retired, I well recall how delighted Emma was when she announced that “a very distinguished OQ” had agreed to become the first non - Headmistress (now Principal) Chairman of the OQA. That position meant a great deal to Jean (who promptly commandeered the crested Q badge number 1 and had it soldered into a silver Q), particularly as it was during her term of office that Q celebrated its centenary - that year was packed with celebrations, culminating with an overnight stay in the school for a record number of attendees. I well recall that Jean was in her element!
Thereafter , whenever possible, Jean conscientiously appeared at every Q event - Speech Days, the opening of new buildings or facilities, Carol Services, preparations for our OQA centenary edition of ‘Glimpses of Old Queenswoodians’, Branch and Committee meetings - the list is endless! Jean was an extremely generous supporter of Queenswood, notably the refurbishment of a Biology lab at Q, which subsequently bears her name. With her love of music and memories of Ernest Read’s inspirational leadership and influence on decades of Q girls, it was through Jean’s generosity that a most impressive Steinway grand piano was donated to the Ernest Read Hall. Over the decades Jean contributed to all of the fundraising campaigns – she could always be depended upon to support school appeals.
Throughout her life, although she never mentioned diaries, Jean consciously kept full details of her family’s history and all her activities through the decades. During her retirement she wrote avidly, the most important volume being her 258 page, detailed publication, ‘Heads for Medicine’ which was published in 2011. I wonder how many other 88 year olds would be capable of producing such an impressive autobiography?
Jean was possibly Queenswood’s most distinguished old girl and many OQs will have personal memories of Jean’s numerous and varied activities as well as her contributions to the OQA and to Queenswood. Personally, I first met her in 1989 and since then we’ve shared numerous committee meetings and many experiences connected with Q. The decades have sped past and although Jean’s familiar and welcome presence will no longer appear at Q, the School and the OQA will be the poorer, for we owe her a great debt of gratitude. Regrettably, at the great age of almost 98, her long and distinguished life has come to a peaceful end. Thankfully, however, happy memories of her will never fade...
The OQA hope to compile and publicise more memories of Jean, in due course.