The Jewish Chronicle

Vikki Askew



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.

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