Jacky’s school had a style of its own

Jacky Pickersgill, head of Lightcliffe Preparatory School
Jacky Pickersgill, head of Lightcliffe Preparatory School

FORMER principal of the Lightcliffe Preparatory School, Jacky Pickersgill, has died after battling cancer.

Well-known and loved in the Calderdale area and beyond by parents and pupils alike, Jacky was head of the school for almost 30 years.

She took over at the helm of the prep school in Wakefield Road from her father, Philip Watkins, in 1979 when he retired. He in turn had taken over from his father and Jacky’s grandfather, Archibald Lionel Watkins, in 1959, so Jacky was the third generation to take over the family-owned school.

Jacky continued as principal when the prep school merged with the closely-linked Hipperholme Grammar School, under the umbrella of the Hipperholme Schools Foundation, in 2004. However, the family’s 60-year link ended in 2008, when she left.

Hipperholme Grammar School has flown its flag at half-mast in memory and respect of Jacky.

Jacky spent the first few years of her life in Castleford and Leeds, but moved to the Hipperholme area at the age of six.

Early in her life she was involved in the housing business sector, but she soon found herself back at the family prep school she had attended as a girl, when her father retired.

Later, she admitted that the school had been a much bigger part of her than she had realised and that she relished the chance of taking over and following the family tradition.

Shortly before Jacky left the school, an Ofsted Report commended her on “a school with a style of its own which works so successfully”. She later said: “That for me says everything about the school.”

Although an unassuming person who shied away from attention, Jacky went out of her way in the school and the community to make a fuss of everyone else.

Her son, Chris, and daughter, Rosie, recall Jacky going into school appropriately dressed for some of her “theme days”. “She even went into school once on Red Nose Day, dressed as a clown and, of course, a red nose,” said Rosie.

Chris added: “I’m not sure many school heads would do that, but mum always entered the spirit of things.”

After leaving the prep school, Jacky took up her earlier business skills, including that as a technical writer, when she worked closely with her brother, Anthony. She also undertook PA work and set up her own company, mainly involved in virtual assistant services.

She was also a volunteer for Homestart, helping under-privileged families in Calderdale.

Jacky enjoyed going to the ballet and visiting Cornwall, where her family came from, and loved walking in the countryside and trips to the coast with her partner, Michael.

“She loved being near the sea and we went whenever we could,” he said.

Jacky, who was 58, was diagnosed with cancer 10 months ago but lost her fight against the disease on January 16.

Michael added: “Jacky spent 10 days in Overgate Hospice in Elland early in December and it gave her a tremendous pre-Christmas lift. The care shown by the staff there was incredible and the care and kindness by staff on Ward 12 at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary was also fantastic.”

A celebration of Jacky’s life will take place at 11am tomorrow – Friday – at Huddersfield Crematorium, Fixby.