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Bridget (Biddy) Pauline Harker (née Blackburn), Obituary

Bridget (Biddy) Pauline Harker (née Blackburn)
1932 – 1940 Gant

Biddy said that Hunmanby Hall was a wonderful place for forming lifelong friendships.  She was very proud of her time there, and remained a member of HHOGA until her death on 5thJune 2014 in her 92ndyear.  She attended her last meeting in 2012 with Nottingham & Midshires Branch at Sue Rankin’s home and was delighted to learn of Sue’s impending chairmanship.

Born on 27thAugust 1922, the second daughter of Capt. Norman Blackburn, aviator and member of the Blackburn Aircraft family, she couldn’t wait to join her sister, Joan at the school.  Her younger sister, Elizabeth Grey, is still a member of the London HHOGA branch.

Hunmanby was where she got her grounding in music and physical education. She studied music to Grade 8, was captain of cricket and played lacrosse. She used those skills to run keep fit classes and ‘movement with ease’ exercises, along with her physiotherapy qualification throughout her life.

At the outbreak of war in 1939, after parents withdrew their daughters to safer areas, she was one of four left in the Upper Sixth; her friend and later godmother to my sister, Dorothy Parkinson (née Hunter) HHOGA Chairman 1973-4, the then head girl Mary Skinner and Ursula Everest, head girl 1940-41.

She was accepted at Dartford College, originally called The Bergman Osterberg Physical Training College after the Swedish founder.  She studied PE, gymnastics, anatomy and two pioneering modern dance forms introduced by Martina Bergman Osterberg and Laban, a totally new dance form which was the forerunner of modern dance.  Biddy was particularly interested in the combining of dance and gymnastics with choreographing large groups of people. She graduated a member of The Chartered Society of Masseuses & Medical Gymnasts, now the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy.  The College was evacuated to Newquay in 1940 to make way for the army. Those beaches not mined were used as extra games pitches, and swimming only took place in the summer in the icy cold harbour or at Baker’s Folly.  Teaching practice was in schools all over Cornwall travelling by bicycle or public transport laden with kit.

After qualifying in 1942, her first teaching job was at Longleat House in Bath which became a school during the war for daughters of officers of the army, where she spent 3 years.

In 1946 she married Flight Lieutenant Leslie Wilson Harker, DFC, and had three children.  They lived in Leeds where she joined the Keep Fit Association started by Eileen Fowler who, before aerobics and working out, was the first health guru to put movement and exercise to music.  Biddy choreographed modern classics and pop music to the piano accompaniment of her great friend Peggy Stafford, and ran classes until 1986.  She chaired the local branch of the Association and helped to train new leaders.  She also lectured to groups on ‘Housework with Ease’ to avoid putting strain on your back.  She joined the BackCare Association in its infancy as member 19.

Moving to Leicestershire, she joined the WI and was a member for 28 years, becoming a formidable handbell ringer.  In 1992, she won the WI Federation ‘Margaret Johnson Trophy’ competition to devise a dance for the 10thanniversary.  It was called ‘Dance for a Decade’ to be performed by the Jerusalem Jammers, a ladies Morris team of garland dancers.

Among her other interests was the Leeds Piano Competition where she enjoyed looking after the judges at this prestigious event for many years.

One of the tributes to Biddy from her grandchildren mentioned how ‘she gave you her full attention and shared your enthusiasm; she made you feel special and let you know you were loved for the individual person you are’. It strikes me that Hunmanby laid down the foundations, having read similar comments from others whose lives have been remembered in the Javelin.  

Biddy and Leslie were married for 67 years.  Leslie died in July 2013. The families of their three children and five grandchildren cherish their lives lived to the full.                         Christine Simpson

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