Sue East, a primary school teacher, died on December 19 after a short battle with cancer. The 58-year-old from Bath, Somerset, has been laid to rest in a coffin that was covered in her students’ drawings.
While on her death bed, Sue wrote to her students a heartbreaking letter, telling them about her illness and how she was ‘going to die soon,’ as well as thanking them for their ‘joy and friendship.’ In the touching letter, Sue also quoted a passage from C.S Lewis’ 1953 novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, in which death is compared to sailing over the horizon in a small, round boat.
Sue wrapped up her letter, writing:
Never forget there is fairy dust to be found in every situation, no matter how difficult.
The coffin in which she was laid to rest, was covered in drawings by her pupils at St. Andrews School in Bath, where Sue was a headteacher.
Hundreds of mourners, including pupils, ex-pupils, and staff members, gathered at Bath Abbey to honor and say farewell to the former teacher.
In their tributes, her pupils described Sue as:
Fun, lovely, exotic, glittery, the best teacher, kind, caring, taught us to believe in ourselves, sprinkled fairy dust everywhere.
In the farewell letter, she quoted a passage from the novel where Lewis describes the mouse’s final journey, writing:
Then hastily he got into his coracle and took the paddle, and the current caught it and away he went, very black against the lilies. But no lilies grew on the wave; it was a smooth green slope. The coracle went more and more quickly, and beautifully it rushed up the wave’s side. For one split second, they saw its shape and Reepicheep’s on the very top. Then it vanished, and since that moment no one can truly claim to have seen Reepicheep the Mouse.
As for her colleagues, they described her as an ‘extraordinary friend and colleague,’ and ‘bonkers, as all brilliant people are.’
Sue’s three children, John, Susannah, and Josia East, also honored their mother by reading touching tributes. John, her eldest son, revealed how his mother loved referring to children as ‘creatures,’ saying:
Mum lived freely and selflessly. I am humbled to have received a love so unconditional. Mum didn’t just love us, she loved all the ‘creatures’ she worked with. They were here today celebrating mum’s life. She would not think she is more important than anyone here. I would encourage you to live your lives with love to all people.
While her daughter, Susannah, said her mother’s spirit will live on, adding she was with them at the funeral. Susannah also revealed for all those present at the funeral, how Sue would show her signs of ‘love and peace’ when she was too tired to talk at the Dorothy House Hospice.
She said that death is not to be feared, for it is only coming home. She said how even in the most difficult situations, you find fairy dust.
Josiah, her youngest son, jokingly said his mother would have probably scolded him for writing a speech for her funeral instead of working on his dissertation.
She led by example. She raised three children whilst working full time. She taught me that learning is more important than exams and numbers on spreadsheets. To question what you believe and adapt. She taught me how to live life and accept death.
Josiah wrapped his tribute with a reference to Sue’s favorite movies, Star Trek Generation, and so did her joint deputy headteachers, Tam Stephen, and Jayne Rochford-Smith.
The letter she sent to her students inspired the drawings which adorned her coffin at her funeral.
On his speech, Tam went on saying how Sue ‘nurtured’ as well as led a whole community, adding they’ve considered each other as family, with Sue as ‘Captain Kirt at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.’ In addition to many other things, Tam said:
We all agree that Sue made a difference. She campaigned for creativity, inclusion, diversity and equality. One cannot help but fall in love with her and the school she so proudly led. Sue exuded huge love for everyone in her care.
Jayne told everyone about Sue being ‘immense,’ and how her influence went beyond St Andrew’s School. Jayne also revealed Sue was the co-founder of Schools Without Walls.
People also spoke about Sue being a ‘Yorkshire girl’ before moving to Stratford-upon-Avon, and her dream about wanting to change the world, one child at a time.
Reverend Simond Holland was one of the many who spoke about Sue’s qualities, but also mentioned the farewell letter she wrote and was later shared by the school.
In that letter that has gone out around the nation, people have been moved by the words she shared and the words she gave. On the coffin, you saw drawings of fairies, butterflies, rainbows and of course fairy dust.
We extend our deepest sympathies to Sue’s family during this difficult time.