The Jewish Chronicle
BORN LEEDS, JANUARY 4, 1957. DIED LONDON, MARCH 9, 2016, AGED 59
HER LIFE-LONG commitment to community action helped Vikki Askew build a rapport with both adults and children with learning difficulties. She chaired the Independent Schools Council Working Party on Community Action and helped the government set up and support the “Step up to Serve” initiative to extend volunteering in state schools. She also helped Romanian orphans and handicapped children via the international Romania Project.
Vikki’s unique character was forged in adversity. Her parents, John and Susan (née Yaffe) Howard highly valued culture and education. Her Sephardi mother taught her to speak Ladino and Vikki was quickly aware of her own place in Jewish history. Her father, a first generation immigrant who fled the Nazi advance into Romania, set up his textile business under the solid Yorkshire name of Howard, formerly Horowitz. He had fought for Britain in the Second World War.
The importance of seizing every moment was confirmed to her at the age of eight, when she lost her older brother Edward in a road accident. Her ensuing life became a mitzvah — a sacred duty to make up for her brother’s loss and to serve the world. The symbol she always wore next to her mother’s Star of David was a chai.
Vikki gained a first class degree at Edinburgh University in the days when only three were awarded. She was appointed head of history in four schools: St Edward’s, Oxford, Guildford High School, Christ’s Hospital (where she helped run a new girls’ boarding house and met her husband Tim Askew) and Leeds Grammar School, where she also ran Jewish assemblies.
Vikki’s passion for history made her an inspiri n g t e a c h e r. Vikki Askew: imbued the volunteer spirit into postCommunist society Although her broad teaching remit included Charlemagne, the Crusades, the French Revolution, 17th-century England and the European Reformation, her specialism was the Spanish Convivencia — an age of three different religions engaging with each other amid cultural fluidity. She lectured at the Spiro Institute and co-wrote The Holocaust Explained website for the London Jewish Cultural Centre. She wrote a new specification for the the Pre-U exam board and her expertise was borne out by her education articles for The Sunday Times. She was originally appointed deputy h e a d o f J a m e s A l l e n ’ s G i r l s ’ School in Dulwich, andafter a couple of years in Leeds, was reappointed as head of sixth form. Her many university contacts made her a bridge between school and higher education. According to one parent, she expected her girls to have “grown up brains”. She led a sixth form where girls felt independent but supported and loved.
She ran the school’s Saturday literacy scheme for local primary school children, gave her time freely to the Leonard Cheshire Home and organised volunteering by James Allen’s girls at Nightingale House.
Closest to her heart was the Romania project, which she undertook with fellow Romanian volunteers. educating and entertaining orphans and handicapped children, embedding the volunteering culture into post-communist society.She took school teams to Romania every summer for 19 years and expanded the project to partner schools. Vikki felt the post-communist Romanians needed help — despite their attempt to eradicate all traces of her family. She believed in healing, international co-operation and rediscovering her roots. The project inspired the Romanian government to launch a national strategy for com- munity action with 105,000 Romanian volunteers.
Vikki was a linguist who spoke Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Ladino, French, Romanian and Hebrew, in addition to classical Greek and Latin. Through her work with Euroclio, she spread the practice of good history teaching internationally and she was looking forward to gaining Spanish citizenship after the offer of the Spanish government to the descendants of those expelled in 1492.
However, Vikki was also proud of her Yorkshire roots, supporting Leeds United in the glory years. She bestowed an early love of reading to her sons Edward and Daniel, to whom she also taught Latin. Her Jewish identity was very important to her and she attended Bromley Reform Synagogue. She was proud that one son went to Oxford and the other to Cambridge.
Vikki was known for her trademark colourful jackets, the twinkle in her eye, a razor sharp wit and a gentle humour rooted in the joy of relationships.
She is survived by her husband and two sons.