Former chairman remembered for her work in the community

Alma Leonard gave outstanding service to the community in Rustington. PICTURE RIGHT: HARMONY PHOTOGRAPHIC
Alma Leonard gave outstanding service to the community in Rustington. PICTURE RIGHT: HARMONY PHOTOGRAPHIC

A retired teacher who gave outstanding service to the community in Rustington has died at the age of 91.

Alma Leonard was chairman of Rustington Parish Council for eight years, helped set up Rustington and District Twinning Association, was an active members of Rustington Players and taught at Rustington County Primary School.

She is remembered as a lovely lady who had a wonderful way with children.

Parish councillor Don Rogers, who was clerk when Alma was chairman, said: “She was a good chairman because she did a lot of work in the community, so she was a link between the electors and the council.

“The council was very progressive for the time and under her chairmanship, they extended the Woodlands Centre. It used to be a village hall, run by trustees, and the council decided to take it on and improve it to be the centre that it is now. So, she was responsible, really, for providing a wonderful facility for the community.

“She was elected life president of Rustington and District Twinning Association. The whole twinning thing started up when she was chairman. We were approached quite unexpectedly by an American couple touring Sussex looking for a place to twin with their place in the States.

“It was set up under her chairmanship in April 2000 and she went out to sign the charter. Unfortunately, just recently, Los Altos have discontinued their twinning activities but Rustington is still twinned with Germany.

“She and her husband were also very much concerned with running Rustington fête and carnival.”

Alma was born on November 13, 1926, and lived in Earlsfield, South London, as a girl, before moving with her parents to Worcester Park in Surrey. Her mother was a film cutter and her father worked for United Artists.

During World War Two, Alma was evacuated to Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire, where she worked on a farm and later joined the Women’s Royal Army Corps as a signaller.

After the war ended, Alma trained as a teacher and worked in schools where pupils were mainly from deprived families. She often spent her evenings knitting clothing for some of them.

Around 1948, she met Eddie and they were married in 1952, then soon moved to Chadwell Heath in Essex.

Alma carried on teaching until November, 1954, when she gave birth to Robert in Epsom while visiting her parents in Worcester Park. Her second son, Richard, was born in February, 1958, and in late 1959, the family moved to Rustington.

Alma started working as a supply teacher around the area and in 1963, started long-term fostering for the Thomas Coram Foundation. The first was Deborah, who stayed as part of the family until she passed away with multiple sclerosis in her mid-30s, and in 1964-65, she adopted Jane.

Robert said: “As a mother, she was firm but fair, I guess that was the schoolteacher side of her. Teaching was her life, after all.”

Alma then got a full-time position at Rustington County Primary School, where she taught until retirement.

Robert added: “She loved to get involved with local events, especially those that involved children or young people, and would always give her all to help make these a success.”

In 1977, Alma and Eddie visited Robert in Cyprus, where he was stationed, and almost immediately fell in love with the place. They went every year and eventually decided to retire there, so they bought some land and had a villa built.

Robert said: “When Eddie retired, they packed up everything and moved out there to enjoy their retirement but unfortunately Eddie was found to have bowel cancer, so they sold up and returned to the UK, where Eddie passed away a few months later.”

Alma threw herself into community work in Rustington and was elected to serve on the parish council, becoming chairman from 1992 to 2000.

Robert said: “During her time in the chair, she fought hard to get the new youth club in Woodlands Avenue underway and was always in the middle of things, plus she always had the vision of lifting Rustington from a village to town status but the latter was not to be.

“When she left the parish council, she got involved with the twinning association, initially the twinning with Los Altos in California and later with Kunzell in Germany. In her spare time, she used to work in Oxfam.”

In the early 1990s, Alma was collecting for charity when she slipped and fell, breaking her hip. She had a hip replacement but was soon back on her feet in the midst of things again.

Two years later, she had another fall and had the other hip replaced but then she slipped and broke her femur.

Robert said: “From that point onwards, she would not leave the house to go anywhere unless really pushed to and three years ago, she had a minor stroke.

“Despite this, she still managed to keep tabs on what was going on in the village and never lost her sense of humour. We will really miss her.”

Alma passed away on March 28, 2018. The funeral service will be held at Worthing Crematorium at midday on Tuesday, April 24.