Obituary: Tributes to retired Parliament Hill headteacher and ex-Haringey councillor

Retired headteacher and Labour politician Judy Bax, who has died aged 82, made a lasting contribution to the quality of education and local government in London and beyond.

Born to Methodist missionaries in China in 1932, Mrs Bax, her sister Bridget and their mother Betty returned to the UK in 1935. Meanwhile her father, George Osborn, stayed on in China only to be interned by the Japanese during World War II.

Although Mrs Bax did not share her parents’ faith, she clearly inherited their public service ethic.

Educated at various schools, she took a degree in mathematics at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1955.

It was at Oxford that she first met Martin Bax – later to become a noted paediatrician and the founder and long-time editor of the arts magazine Ambit.

The couple married in 1956, with Judy starting her career as a maths teacher at Southgate Grammar and Dame Alice Owen’s School.

In the 60s, she took time out to have a family – and to support her mother in the National Campaign for Nursery Education.

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Mrs Bax – complete with pushchair – joined a mass lobby of Westminster, where her mother delivered a petition demanding universal free nursery schooling to then education secretary Margaret Thatcher. It came in a few years later.

Her involvement in early years education then became more hands on, as she became one of the first women in the UK to learn to drive a double-decker bus as a play leader on the Tottenham Community Project’s pioneering play bus.

After a couple of years, Mrs Bax returned to the classroom, teaching at High Cross School in Tottenham, then Queen Elizabeth’s Girls’ School in Barnet, before becoming headteacher of Parliament Hill School in Highgate Road, near Parliament Hill Fields, in 1987.

Her baptism as a head was not an easy one – but within a year the staff were on her side, and Parliament Hill became a successful, functioning school.

She chaired the La Swap consortium and helping establish the wider Camden Secondary Heads Group.

Many of the teachers she mentored and encouraged went on to become heads in their own right.

Mrs Bax always had lots of energy, and she needed it – for alongside her teaching career she trained and practiced as a marriage guidance counsellor, served on the governing bodies of many other schools, and ran the business affairs of Ambit magazine.

She loved the magazine’s regular live events, and her Highgate home played host to many writers, poets and artists.

“Among those who became firm friends were JG Ballard, Peter Porter and Mike Foreman.

Judy’s retirement from Parliament Hill in 1995 saw the start of a new chapter in her life.

Always a committed member of the Labour Party, she stood for election as local councillor, representing Archway and Hornsey wards at Haringey Council between 1997 and 2006.

She became lead member for education, bringing her self-effacing diplomacy to bear, and helped appoint several new headteachers.

On leaving the council in 2006, Judy continued her commitment to public service as a board member for Jacksons Lane Community Centre in Highgate, as chairwoman of Haringey’s Mentoring Network, and as a key figure in the corporation of the College of North East London.

Throughout her life Judy maintained such a highly intelligent level of interest in individuals and their issues that people couldn’t help responding to her.

As she put it herself: “I am a socialist. I want a society which is fair, just and open where everyone can participate and contribute. I see education as one of the keys to such a society and that is where I have made my contribution.”

Judy Bax is survived by her loving husband Martin, her three children Tim, Ben and Alex and by seven grandchildren.