As part of International Women’s Day (8 March 2020), we’re taking the opportunity to celebrate some of the great women working on the Temple Quarter programme. In a series of blogs, we’ve asked them to write about the women that inspire them to challenge stereotypes and promote equality.
This first piece is by Gemma Stock, Operations Manager for Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus.
Edwina Whitwell: a fighter for children’s rights to education, explorer and champion of resilience
The eldest of four girls, Edwina Whitwell (nee Enefer) was born in 1952. Labelled as a daydreamer at school, she married at the age of 18 – as was the expectation of the time – and worked a variety of administrative roles until she left to start a family. Despite the lack of encouragement or support from her (somewhat Victorian) husband, she returned to education in her mid-30s and became a teacher at the age of 42 after completing her GCSEs, A Levels and degree. To support her husband’s salary and to ensure her children wanted for nothing, Edwina worked on weekends and in holidays during her return to education – she also opened her family home to exchange students.
Despite her late arrival to the world of education, Edwina has left an extraordinary mark on children’s lives in the North Somerset area. She worked tirelessly to ensure children with special needs were treated as individuals and received the education they were entitled. She took the time needed to explain a child’s requirements to their parents. She listened to family’s frustrations with the situation and with the “system”. She fought local government for money to ensure a deaf boy went to the right school. She supported parents on applications to make sure their children got into the right educational establishments. She fought to keep kids in school when they would otherwise have been excluded.
Ignoring protests from her husband, Edwina started to travel… alone! She trekked mountains in Romania, walking for part of the time with horrendous food poisoning. In an attempt to avoid further upset, she did a real-life Shirley Valentine. Edwina left a note on the fridge for her husband and flew to Kathmandu to trek the foothills of the Himalayas, where she admitted she thought she’d die when cowering under a piece of Perspex while “hail the size of bricks” fell.
Since losing her husband who – despite his shortcomings as a forward-thinking husband – was the love of her life, Edwina has travelled extensively. She’s visited America, Oman, Egypt, India, Jordan, Thailand (where she fell off a barge and almost drowned in the River Kwai), Vietnam, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, Morocco, Egypt, Europe and Rwanda where she taught English to children. And in two weeks’ time, she will travel to Antarctica.
Now retired, Edwina’s investment in children’s future is not yet over – she teaches life-skills to year 6 students in the Bristol area on a voluntary basis.
She is the epitome of resilience. Every time she was knocked down or someone said she couldn’t do something, she looked them straight in the eye and did it anyway. She instils this trait in her children, her students and her granddaughters. Edwina is a massive inspiration to women. I know this because she’s my mum and I want to be like her. My friends (who are all in their 40s) and my young nieces all want to be like her – but as hard as we try, I don’t think any of us will ever reach her level of awesomeness!
Read other blogs in this series for International Women’s Day.