Ann Maguire: Misplaced modesty of extraordinary woman

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The huge outpouring of emotion that greeted Ann Maguire’s death was at odds with her modest perception of herself. As sam casey reports, the legacy of an inspirational teacher lives on.

It is rare that the death of any individual prompts the kind of public outpouring of emotion and the communal sense of loss that followed the news of Ann Maguire’s murder.

To anyone unaware of what had happened, the mounds of flowers, photographs and school paraphernalia that grew outside Corpus Christi Catholic College in Halton Moor in the ensuing days might have suggested the passing of a much-loved celebrity or member of royalty.

Mrs Maguire was some way from being either – a naturally shy woman, she was, by her own estimation, simply an ordinary teacher doing what ordinary teachers do.

It is fair to say, however, that her modest assessment of her own attributes was some way wide of the mark – “ordinary” is not a description that has featured heavily in the countless tributes to her in the last six months.

In truth, much of what has happened in this case since news of the attack started to break on April 28 has been nothing short of extraordinary.

It was about 2.20pm when a notification was released by West Yorkshire Police that a teacher had been stabbed to death in a classroom – and that a pupil had been arrested.

The news was difficult to digest – such an incident was without precedent in Britain. Predictably, it quickly took over media bulletins not just in Leeds and Yorkshire but nationally and internationally.

Within a couple of hours the street outside Corpus Christi was lined with media vans and reporters from every news outlet. Stunned pupils – initially kept in school as staff tried to maintain a degree of normality – filed out into the spring sunshine in a kind of daze.

Many wept openly, often in the embrace of their friends.

Some spoke to journalists about Mrs Maguire and it very quickly became clear that the teacher at the heart of this incident was someone universally liked, with one crucial exception.

A few talked about the suspect, Will Cornick – a name that was widely circulated on social media at the time but which the Press were only given licence to publish when the judge lifted restrictions yesterday afternoon.

Those who did know the boy – who was 15 at the time – painted a picture of an introvert who had experienced depression and struggled to some extent to fit in.

His own profiles on social media hinted at an interest in heavy metal and video games – not unlike millions of other adolescent boys. Seen in the light of his crime, an image of the grim reaper on his Facebook page seemed especially sinister.

But there had been little in the weeks and months before April 28 to suggest that Cornick was capable of the savage violence that cost Mrs Maguire her life.

With the teenager in police custody having meekly given himself up, a steady stream of people continued to file down the road to the school gates in honour of his victim. Many of them were former students – such was her longevity that Mrs Maguire had in some cases taught several generations of the same family.

Meanwhile, forced to deal with the ramifications of an unparalleled tragedy, the school’s management faced a choice – to shut the school out of respect and allow students time to try to come to terms with what had happened or to continue as normal.

Perhaps mindful of the school motto – ‘together we work, learn, pray, grow’ – they decided that the best way forward was to begin the recovery as one.

And so it was that pupils – with the exception of those who had witnessed the attack – returned the following day to resume their education, albeit in an environment that was unlikely to be conducive to learning.

The decision was later endorsed by Mrs Maguire’s family. They knew that their wife and mother – fondly described as the “mum of the school” – would have been 
keen for the students to whom she had devoted so much to have as much support as possible.

Don Maguire and his daughters, Kerry and Emma, and nephews, Daniel and Andrew Poole – whom the couple raised as sons – paid their own visit to the school four days after Mrs Maguire’s death to see for themselves the sea of tributes.

By then the bouquets, pictures and mementoes numbered several hundred and it took the family some time to walk the hundred-metre stretch.

Speaking for the first time, they described her as “our shining light” who “brightened the world for many”.

More than 1,000 people came together on the school fields a couple of days later to release balloons in Mrs Maguire’s memory.

Hundreds more attended her funeral at the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in May.

But it was at the public memorial service held at Leeds Town Hall in September that the true impact of Mrs Maguire’s murder, and the extent of her legacy, became fully apparent.

The occasion had the grandeur of a state funeral, with about 1,200 people including civic dignitaries packed into the ornate Victoria Hall and hundreds more watching on a big screen outside. But the uplifting atmosphere was more reminiscent of a celebratory farewell.

Her nephew Daniel spoke for many when he said: “She gave us all so much and we are all privileged to have her in our lives.”

Just over six months after stabbing her to death, Will Cornick yesterday pleaded guilty to Ann Maguire’s murder and was told that he would spend at least the next 20 years of his life in detention.

The Leeds Crown Court hearing answered some questions, but left the most troubling one unresolved: Why did this young man, from a loving family, without any major discernible psychological problems – and lacking a motive of any substance – take the life of a woman who had his best interests at heart?

The absence of an adequate explanation remains the most chilling aspect of the case.

Robbed of their wife, mother, sister and grandmother in such a senseless way, it is difficult to comprehend what Mrs Maguire’s family must be going through.

As they said in a statement yesterday they are looking to the future with a “fragile hope”.

No doubt they will take solace from the fact that the 41 years Mrs Maguire devoted to a school and a city continues to bear fruit.

As Monsignor John Wilson, from the Diocese of Leeds, said outside the school yesterday: “Her legacy is of huge importance to us all, and we take collective strength from ensuring that we carry on the passion and commitment that she demonstrated to all the children and young people she worked with over the years.”

CONTINIUNG THE LEGACY THROUGH FOUNDATION

The family of Ann Maguire made a point of appealing publicly for her legacy to be honoured in the form of donations to a charity set up in her name.

In a statement they said: “It is important for the family to recognise this special woman by asking you to support the Ann Maguire Foundation.”

The Ann Maguire Arts Education Fund was established for the “enhancement and personal development of young people under 18 years old through music, drama, language and dance”.

According to the website www.annmaguire.org: “Ann had incredible passion for teaching and encouraging talent in young people and it is very appropriate that it the fund will enable and encourage this kind of activity, in her name.”

Managed by the Leeds Community Foundation, it has so far attracted donations of more than £32,000.

A comment left by one donor yesterday read: “From one teacher to another, thank you for being an inspiration for children.”

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