Jo Walters had recently qualified as a teacher in Brighton, where she’d lived for the last 18 months of her life. To give people who didn’t know her an idea of the type of person she was, we have put extracts of the eulogy from her funeral below, as we think it summed her up perfectly. We are hugely grateful to David Hawson for writing and delivering this.
This is a story of a life lived well. lt's a story of happiness, achievement and success, a life so full that my words cannot possibly do it justice.
Everyone who describes Jo uses the same adjectives: kind, loyal, dedicated, ethical, single minded, independent, energetic, motivating, positive and loving. Oh, and of course, just occasionally a bit stroppy!
All these qualities were innate in Jo but could only have developed as fully as they did with wonderful parents in a close and incredibly loving family where encouragement was a byword and potential given free rein. Even as a small child she was known for her single-minded perseverance.
The annual summer holiday in South Uist with her parents Philip and Verity, her sister Lucy and brother-in-law Mark, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and a host of other friends and relations was the perfect training ground for her future with a commonsensical approach to supervision (usually a pair of binoculars) and an admirable lack of 'health and safety' Jo and Lucy, with their cousins, first learned to sail and have adventures.
Amazon was a ten foot Mirror dinghy in which they would travel out to sea unencumbered by adult company. As small children they even sailed on their own to the island of Fuday some three miles distant and camped overnight. They bumped into a basking shark - Lucy reassured Jo that it was a plankton eater. So when they later had a close encounter with an Orca, Jo not unnaturally assumed that that it too was a vegetarian.
These were holidays far removed from the instant gratification of a theme Park. This was where one learned to make one's own amusement and to discover that the best enjoyment comes with some effort.
So it's hardly surprising that we find Jo in later life sailing across the Atlantic, getting her yachtmaster, chartering yachts, running a marathon, captaining hockey in Dublin, fearlessly skiing, kite surfing and sea kayaking and generally making the world a better place. It’s also possibly where she honed her famed organizational skills - watching large amounts of relatives trying to prepare for the daily outing - Her trans Atlantic voyage from Nova Scotia was in the Tall Ships’ Race with Gordonstoun. Her luggage had been lost in transit. So her wet weather gear was Philip's old oilskins. These had been state of the art when he himself had worn them in the Round the World Race in 1977 but they were huge, now held together with duct tape and creaked whenever she moved. Forever practical, the other half of her wardrobe was the 27 pairs of knickers - one for each day of the trip.
Her yachtmaster she got with Mark (her brother-in-law) and was soon organising and skippering sailing holidays for her friends. Many of those who went with her had no previous experience but with her enthusiasm and teaching are now themselves sailors. She was a regular crew for Rob on Gualin where she was placed strategically on the foredeck so her screams' during the occasional strop as the spinnaker flew away could be safely carried away on the wind.
As a sailor, and with all her other pursuits, she was never overconfident or blase and if she was guilty of anything it was sometimes to question her own abilities, often meeting success with her own shout of surprise - "whoopee, I did it!' She was a wonderful sailing companion and don't we remember how positive she could be, even in the face of adversity like when she sailed from Dublin in a big sea, having been led astray by Peter and Kirstie Duke, some Guinness and other friends the night before. Leaving the shelter of Dublin Bay, all but two (both fortunately arrived after closing time at the yacht club) were soon sea sick. And as they passed round the communal salad bowl, Jo could only laugh between the spasms of vomiting.
At Bristol she did a degree in Spanish and Russian and by this time, she'd overcome her fear of loud bangs so joined the OTC simply because it was an excellent way to make friends as well providing her with an opportunity to 'play out’ at weekends and do more sailing on Army yachts. To improve her languages, she went to Granada and St. Petersburg. At the latter she survived her accommodation - a small flat with no washing machine but with an elderly Russian lady who spoke no English and stank of cabbage. Jo remained positive. Others would have given in.
Jo was the perfect host whether in Dublin, Brighton, St. Petersburg, Granada or Nairobi. She so loved to show people things, and didn't she love to share her enthusiasms? So every place she stayed became a target for her legendary tour guiding skills.
In Russia this even involved flagging down passing cars and asking in Russian that the driver kindly take them to the next sight to see. In Kenya too, her energy and enthusiasm knew no bounds. Visitors meant 'safari' -- so she could show off the country and wildlife that she loved. Especially the hippos whose grunts and wiggles would make her jump up and down with excitement.
The safaris were done in an ancient Range Rover and most trips included an hour or two on the side of the road with Jo underneath repairing it.
On one of these trips, she, Mark and Lucy climbed Mt Kenya which involved a perilous drive by Jo off road up to base camp, a journey that had not been done in motorised transport for at least ten years - let alone by a woman driver. So full was the itinerary and timetable - not a second of the day should be wasted - that some visitors were forced to demand a five minute tea break occasionally.
In Jo's book, sitting was not an option. And you’ll remember the sentences that started: 'come on. Lets....' Activity soon followed!
Despite her enthusiasm for teaching in Kenya, underpayment and lack of visa forced a return but she was delighted to join Lucy in Dublin and also get a job with Google. But she went purposefully to carve her own niche and was careful not to fall into Lucy's slipstream. Here she was highly valued getting a rare Luminary award, given to only 1% of the workforce. But more important was her urge to help others.
This was Jo the giver - the girl with a strong social conscience - the woman with an unshakeable sense of right and wrong. She worked for the Simon community in Dublin and organised a voluntary workforce at Google to do a soup run to the homeless - a service that continues to this day. Her dedication to charity work can probably be traced back to a trip to Thailand with Gordonstoun - there she helped with a water project, as well as developing a lifelong dislike of rice. She also squeezed past the height restrictions to become a very active member of the Gordonstoun Fire Service.
In Bristol she organized a speed dating evening to raise money for the Anthony Nolan Trust. And despite her not terribly athletic build, she ran a marathon in under 4 hours to raise money for them. She set up blood giving clinics in an effort to find a marrow match for Millie and was thrilled to be telephoned recently by someone who'd been at one of her sessions and had been chosen as a donor for someone else.
So high were her ethical values that she spent a year not buying new clothes (except for knickers) in the hopes of reducing child labour in sweatshops. Christmas presents were either bought on line from Oxfam or home made. And weren't the peppermint creams delicious!
She really cared.
Just listen to her last posting on the internet to friends: 'It seems there’s a famine in Niger, which is hardly being reported in the press. I thought maybe other people would like to know'. Famine wasn't fair in Jo's mind. She had an incredible capacity to help people who wanted or needed help, even if it was just helping fellow students with course work.
It was because she wanted to give back to society that she moved from Google and followed her natural talents to do teacher training in Brighton.
She already had all the qualities of an inspirational teacher: she had endless patience and would get down to their level without being condescending.
She not only recently qualified as a teacher but also had just got a job at the school of her choice, Uckfield Community Technology College where she’d done one of her placements so successfully that they’d insisted she must apply for the job. This, for her, was the doorway to the perfect future.
Just hearing of her schedule in Brighton left me exhausted - Monday: kayaking, Tuesday: sailing, Wednesday: hockey, Thursday: kiting, and Friday: running, and that left the weekend for doing things with friends. And for her, the purpose of all these sporting activities was social – it was a good way to meet people and make friends.
We will all miss her dreadfully. The world has lost a very special person. But I think that Jo has always been a teacher and that she’s left us with the very best lesson - and that is. "Look at me! Look how I lived my life! Get the most out of life. But above all, help others get the most out of it too"'
Jo, thank You.
And thank God for Jo.