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Education a driving force throughout teacher’s life

MP joins tributes to Diane Brace, hugely popular figure in Canonbury who helped transform Islington college

03 November, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

A pupil’s sketch of Diane Brace

WELL into her 80s, Diane Brace was still leading classes about current affairs at her home.

Friends said that education, and the desire to help improve the lives of those around her through learning, was a driving force throughout her life.

A lifelong Labour supporter, she was a member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and, closer to home, was a hugely popular figure in Canonbury, where she played a leading role in community life. She died last Thursday, aged 87.

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry said: “I was impressed by Diane’s knowledge of Islington, and affection for our borough – she understood the importance of the local environment. I will miss her.”

In the final years of her life, she held University of the Third Age classes in her kitchen, challenging herself and others.

She herself had studied at The Tiffin Girls’ School in Surrey and later the London School of Economics, where she read philosophy under Karl Popper, a huge influence on her.

In 1951, she married fellow student Derrick Brace and they had two children, Francis Alan Brace, known as George, and Catherine Jane Brace. Their marriage ended in separation in 1966, and divorce three years later.

George was killed while cycling home in 1979. She never recovered from the loss, but poured her efforts into helping his son, Adam, a playwright.

She taught in junior schools and then at secondary and in further education.

From 1986 to 1990, she was principal of North London College, now City and Islington.

Diane made great changes during her time there, helping transform it from a college with a reputation for violence into somewhere young people wanted to go.

She was particularly proud of setting up a mentoring scheme for young black men, pairing them with successful figures in the media and other industries.

She “retired” in 1990 but carried on teaching part time at the college and at Greenwich University.

A long-term member of the Labour Party, Diane left when Tony Blair invaded Iraq but later rejoined. She stood unsuccessfully in a local election but was a party activist and enjoyed canvassing, and chaired the women’s forum. Diane joined the Women in Black, a women’s anti-war movement, and took part in silent demonstrations every week in Trafalgar Square.

Moving to Canonbury in the mid-80s, Diane threw herself into community life, becoming an active member of the Canonbury Society – she was often to be seen on the gates at the summer and Christmas parties.

Also a member of the Friends of New River Walk, she was not afraid to pull on some waders and help out with the maintenance of the river.

A memorial service for Diane will be held in the Town Hall chamber on Friday, December 8.

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