Loving tributes paid to Jay Norris, who has died aged 103, an inspiring teacher whose students included Cliff Richard, a lifelong friend
FORMER pupils have paid tribute to a much-loved and inspiring teacher who brought out the best in everyone.
Jay Norris, who was 103 when she died, taught drama to the young Cliff Richard, then known as Harry Webb and the two remained friends for the rest of her life.
Jay, who lived in Stratford, was described as a “breath of fresh air” for her positive and life-affirming approach.
From 1952 to 1982, she taught English and drama at Cheshunt County Secondary School where she encouraged Cliff Richard in acting, dancing and singing.
During that time, she rose through the ranks to become senior mistress, the equivalent of deputy head and was adored by pupils for enthusiasm and sense of fun.
She cut a glamorous figure, often seen in scarlet lipstick and high heels and driving a red convertible Morris Minor.
She loved to give parties, including mince-pies and Christmas carols, to which her pupils were often invited.
In a flood of tributes, former students recalled how she “lit up any room she entered” and was “the belle of the ball”.
She also taught at Riversmead School and was always popular for her genuine interest in her students.
Born Joan Elizabeth Douglas in London in 1920, she was the youngest of three sisters and faced trauma early in life after her father died when she was just six years old.
She loved literature, especially Shakespeare’s works, from an early age and this passion never left her.
While working as a clerk at Scotland Yard, Jay met her husband Ernest Norris, who had a civilian job there.
The romantic setting of their first date at an open-air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Regents Park must have weaved its magic as just a few months later, they were engaged.
Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Ernest was called up and was part of the British Expeditionary Force, who were later evacuated from Dunkirk.
During his leave in 1942, they tied the knot at Brompton Oratory and the following year Jay gave birth to their first child, Paul.
For the first decade, the three lived with Jay’s mother.
All who knew Jay commented on how she was well-travelled, and this began in 1947 when she spent a year as a governess in New York, Florida and Oklahoma and it was at this point in life that she changed her name from Joan to Jay. She went on to work as a saleswoman and on returning to Britain started her own nappy laundering business.
Luckily for her pupils, she soon switched to teaching and in 1956 they had their second son, James.
Ever enterprising, while living in Cheshunt, Jay generated extra income for the family by renting out rooms to Spurs footballers.
Sadly, not long after they moved to York, Ernest died in 1992.
Jay went to live with Paul, who also died last year.
Well into her 80s, Jay continued to work as a drama examiner, go on cruises and play bridge.
A heavy smoker until she gave up in her early 60s, ex-pupils remember how she would smoke during drama lessons, putting out the cigarettes with her finger and thumb before placing the stubs carefully in the pocket of her waistcoat.
Many times pupils would see smoke coming from her waistcoat and up would go the cry ‘Miss, I think you’re on fire’.