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NEWS > School News > Remembering Former Head of Biology Janet Hanssen

Remembering Former Head of Biology Janet Hanssen

We were very sad to hear that Janet Hanssen, who was a much-loved biology teacher at LEH for many years in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, passed away last month following a long illness.

16 Apr 2021
School News

Former Deputy Head Trish White said: “Janet was an excellent teacher and expected high standards from all her pupils. Many went on to have successful careers in a variety of subjects including medicine, dentistry and veterinary science.”

Fellow former science teacher Ruth Parker recalls: “As a member of the Science department, Janet was my head of faculty, as well as being head of the Biology department. My memory of her in that role was of her light touch on the tiller (this was in the days before weekly department meetings) whilst keeping tabs on the proceedings of the individual departments.

“She was cheerful, welcoming to a new recruit, efficient, and she inspired confidence. Such were her organisational and managerial skills that Janet was also Examinations Officer concurrently with her subject roles. I well remember her instructions to invigilators taped to the front desk of the rooms used for public examinations– clear and concise, and all in her stylish handwriting.

“I recollect being awed by the huge collection of Biology books Janet had for reference in the Biology prep room, many of them on the subject of botany. Her love of the natural world was evident in many ways, from extensive foreign travel to attending the Chelsea flower show every year (for which Miss Candy would allow her a day off). Janet drove a sports car, choosing models with biological names. I recall smiling to see that she had graduated from a panther to a spider!

“Janet’s daughter Karen, an alumna of LEH, died tragically young when a tree fell on her car during a storm. Janet and her husband Maurice endowed a prize for natural history illustration in Karen’s memory, and it was a touching occasion when they both attended the first presentation of the prize at prize giving.

“Janet struck me as a bonne vivante, and I hope she had a good life right to the end of her life.”

Two former pupils have also paid tribute to Mrs Hanssen.  Dr Jane Tighe, LEH 1967-1979, who is now a Consultant Haematologist at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, said: “It was with great sadness that I heard today that Mrs Hanssen had passed away and I wanted to take the opportunity of writing a few words in memory of her.

“There are several people that stand out as being pivotal in my school days and subsequent career, and she certainly is one of them. She taught me biology throughout my senior school years and set me on my path in medicine. On reflection, she somehow managed to make biology seem – well – natural, easy, interesting… none of the complexities of physics or the formulae of chemistry, and yet I realise on reflection how well prepared she was for every lesson, how varied our activities were – drawing plants, dissecting, and those interactive experiments (I was so pleased I didn’t have to drink the gallons of water before the bus home).

“I was so surprised when today it was mentioned that she was ‘early in her career’ when she taught my classmates and I- she always seemed calm and as though it was second nature to her. It is so hard as a pupil to learn much about our teachers – and yet I remember those lunchtime monitor sessions walking round LEH grounds with her ‘to keep an eye on things’ (she never did spot all those red biology exercise books that should NEVER leave the building, stuffed up jumpers to swat for the afternoon tests) and the time that she kindly gave me a lift home after school one day.

“The one thing though that I am sure of though– she would be proud to know how we all turned out in the end and would have taken great joy in knowing that she had set us on that path. So, thank you Mrs Hanssen- for everything.”

And alumna Genevieve Leaper, who is now a photographer and writer, with a passion for nature and the outdoors, whose work has been used in books, calendars and greeting cards, says: “Janet Hanssen was my teacher for A level biology (around 1980). Biology was always my favourite subject so it was important to me to have a good teacher, which she undoubtedly was. She had a reputation for being quite fierce and certainly expected us to work hard but she wasn't so scary after all once you got to know her. I hated school but always enjoyed biology lessons.

“I remember that her real interest was botany. I was more interested in animals and went on to study Zoology at university, followed by working on seabirds. Now working freelance as a nature photographer and writer, I am belatedly discovering an interest in plants as well. I will always be grateful to Janet Hanssen for the thorough grounding in basic biology which was the first step in my career.”

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