My mother, Areta Hautman, who has died aged 86, was known for her dedication to promoting progressive education. As a governor of the King Alfred school, north London, for 40 years she made a great contribution both to the institution and the book, King Alfred School and the Progressive Movement 1898-1998, by Ron Brooks. Published to mark its centenary in 1998, the book positioned the school within the context of a broader educational, social and political history.
A proponent of child-centred learning, parental involvement and the greenest possible environment, Areta remained immersed in the life of the school until her death, stepping back only briefly when her husband, Henry, died in 2000.
Born in Los Angeles, the daughter of Norma Hills and George Lea, Areta was the oldest of four children in a family of Seventh-day Adventists. Her father was an agricultural worker, her mother a nurse. Looking for paid work at the height of the Depression, the family moved 25 times by the time Areta was 12. Eventually, she attended Campion academy in Colorado, where she discovered “forbidden” books (such as Shakespeare’s Sonnets) and began to question what else she might be missing within the confines of a 1940s religious education.
The first in her family to continue into higher education, she graduated from Atlantic Union, a Seventh-day Adventist college in Massachusetts, in 1955 and completed her master’s in psychiatric social work at the University of Nebraska in 1957. Then she worked for the Strategic Air Command at the Offutt air force base, near Omaha, supporting recruits during the cold war, and then in a girls’ school in LA.
In 1966, she met Henry Hautman, a mechanical engineer visiting from London. They married in an Adventist church to please Areta’s mother; then, secretly, went to party with friends up in the Hollywood Hills, to enjoy “illicit” drinking and dancing. They settled in Highgate, north London.
Her garden remained her great joy and she was also a voracious reader. A humanist to the core, she was full of life and humour, always giving more than she received. Areta died suddenly from a heart attack while gardening.
She is survived by her two children, Geoffrey and me, a grandson, Garvin, and by her sister, Nola.