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Norah Cook (1919-2005)

Norah Cook, retired Bristol classics teacher and author and co-author of several books.

Ten years ago, at the age of 86, retired Bristol classics teacher Norah Cook wrote a book - A Hand on My Shoulder - which is now in the libraries of almost every prison in Britain and has become an inspiration for many of the inmates.

The book, co-authored with Vera Frampton, explores how God communicates with people using stories from around the world. It was originally produced at the request of schools, but before long it was also being sent out to prisons throughout Britain, as well as other parts of Europe and Africa, where chaplains discovered the simple and direct stories of faith and spiritual discovery were proving popular with many of the cell occupants.

Before long requests for more copies were flooding into Norah Cook's home in Bristol and, with the help of friends, packages of books were despatched almost every weekend to more prison chaplains. Letters of thanks came from the chaplains and sometimes the prisoners themselves.

A Hand on My Shoulder was the latest of a series of inspirational books she authored or co-authored in the years since her retirement from teaching. In 1970 she wrote We're All Looking for Something and in 1973 Family and Kinship a text book for schools which sold 7,000 copies. With Vera Frampton, who had been editor of Religious Education and Social Studies for Blandford Press, she also wrote Guidelines for Today in 1990 which put the Ten Commandments into a modern context.

Her writing stemmed from a passionate commitment to young people and to education and was based on her own firm and unstinting faith. She was a long time supporter of the Oxford Group, later to become Moral Re-Armament – which she first met in the 1930's.

The daughter of a former soldier in the Wiltshire Regiment, Fred Merrett, who became a Methodist Minister she gained a Master's in Classics at Birmingham University followed by a Certificate of Education. There followed a career in teaching which included posts at Canton High School for Boys in Cardiff, Kings Norton Grammar School for Girls in Birmingham and, in 1955, an appointment as Head of Classics at the newly opened Corby Grammar School. Four years later she became Deputy Head.

In 1960, after marrying Ron Cook, she moved to Bristol where she continued to teach A Level Latin and Greek at the Bristol Cathedral School and Henbury Comprehensive. She was a life long Methodist and member of Westbury Park Methodist Church in Bristol.

She was in regular touch with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances developed through her years in education. Many former pupils valued her continuing friendship and advice. Despite her increasing frailty in her later years she kept up these friendships with phone calls and letters and welcomed friends old and new into her home. She died, aged 96, after a short illness.

First published in The Independent, 10 May 2005

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