A much-loved primary school head who died after writing a farewell letter to pupils from her death bed has been laid to rest – in a coffin covered in their drawings.
Sue East was just 58 when she died on December 19, soon after being diagnosesd with cancer.
Shortly before her death, she penned a heart-wrenching final letter to her pupils, telling them she was “going to die soon” and thanking them for their “joy and friendship”.
In the letter – which promptly went viral – Mrs East quoted a passage from C.S Lewis’ 1952 novel, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, comparing death to sailing over the horizon in a small, round boat.
At the end of her letter, she wrote: “Never forget there is fairy dust to be found in every situation, no matter how difficult.”
On Wednesday, almost 700 pupils, parents, ex-pupils and staff members crammed into Bath Abbey to say farewell to the former headteacher of St Andrew’s Church School in Bath.
Past and present pupils of the school sang at the funeral, and covered Mrs East’s coffin with drawings of fairies, butterflies, love hearts, rainbows and “fairy dust”.
Tributes paid by pupils said that they “loved” their headteacher, and described her as everything from “fun” and “lovely” to “glittery” and “the best teacher”.
Her colleagues described her as “an extraordinary friend and colleague”, and “bonkers, as all brilliant people are”.
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Mrs East’s three children, John, Susannah and Josiah East, all read touching tributes to their mother, alongside the readings from staff members, close friends and Rev. Simon Holland.
Her older son, John, told how his mother loved to refer to children as “creatures”.
He said: “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.
Her daughter Susannah said how her mother’s spirit lives on, and that she was with them all at the funeral.
“When she was too tired to talk at Dorothy House Hospice, she would show me the signs of love and peace,” said Susannah.
“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.”
She added: “I loved you to the moon and back. I miss you. I look forward to seeing you on whichever shore you find yourself on.”
Mrs East’s younger son Josiah joked how his mother would have probably admonished him for writing a speech for her funeral and not focusing on his dissertation.
He said: “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 then finished his tribute by referring to one of Mrs East’s favourite films – Star Trek Generations.
He added: “James T. Kirk turns to Jean-Luc Picard and asks: ‘Did we make a difference?’ And Picard says: ‘Yes, yes we did’.”
And Mrs East’s joint deputy headteacher colleagues, Tam Stephen and Jayne Rochford-Smith, also referenced Star Trek in paying tribute to their “inspirational” friend.
Tam said: “She has created not just a wonderful school, she has nurtured and led a whole community.
“We often refer to ourselves as a family, with Sue as Captain Kirk at the helm of the Starship Enterprise.
“Sue was an extraordinary friend and colleague to us all at St Andrews. There was wholehearted agreement that she was bonkers, as all brilliant people are.”
And Jayne described Mrs East as “immense”, and said that her positive influence stretched beyond the walls of St Andrew’s School.
She said: “It is fair to say that she was a pioneering and creative force in primary education. She was immense.
“She shared her expertise at a national level. She co-founded Schools Without Walls.
“She called the WhatsApp group we were all in the chief fairies WhatsApp group. We feel she is still present here today. She empowered us all.”