Jill Runnette: Activist and teacher who led the Campaign Against Lead In Petrol

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The Independent Online

In December 1999, this newspaper described Jill Runnette as the Wimbledon housewife who, in the 1970s, spearheaded the Campaign Against Lead In Petrol (Calip). She was indeed the driving force and the guiding spirit behind the campaign. It aimed to educate people about the pollution and health risks arising from the use of lead and put pressure on the government for change. With what the Independent described as terrier-like persistence and armed with assiduously researched material, she took on scientists, politicians, the Civil Service and the oil giants and gradually persuaded ministers of the dangers of this toxic metal. Calip paved the way for a further campaign, led by Des Wilson, which by 1983 had succeeded in obtaining from the government a promise to phase out the poison. Its use was finally banned in 1999.

Runnette was a formidable campaigner but this represented just one dimension of her life. Her career as an outstanding teacher of art, achieving enviable results, extended over a period of four decades. Brought up in Kensal Rise, she studied at Hornsey College of Art and undertook teacher-training at Goldsmith's College. She qualified in 1961 and taught at a primary school in Kent and grammar schools in Norfolk and Hertfordshire, before moving in 1969 to Holland Park Comprehensive in London.

In 1960 she married John Runnette, a specialist in the History and Philosophy of Art Education. Their son Julian was born in 1972 and, although undertaking some freelance graphic design work, she largely devoted herself to his upbringing. However, she also became extensively and successfully involved with the Calip campaign. She brought to it a scientific intellect and artistic talent as well as practical good sense and a determination to see the project through to its conclusion, despite inevitable set-backs.

Runnette resumed teaching in 1982, joining the Art Department at Notre Dame Senior School, an independent school in Cobham Surrey. Art was the vehicle which enabled her to pursue her love of educating young people – as an accomplished artist herself, she was a stimulating and energetic teacher. Her approach was imaginative and adventurous; she presented her pupils with new ideas and then encouraged them to investigate these and generate and develop their own.

During her time at Notre Dame, Runnette, always innovative, introduced screen printing, which became an outstanding feature of the department, and used her knowledge of graphic design to help with the re-launch of the school magazine. During the early 1990s, when the numbers of pupils in private education began to fall as a result of the recession, she encouraged the formation of a school marketing committee and utilised the experience she had brought to Calip 20 years earlier.

Runnette left full-time teaching in 1999 and took up a part-time post as Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Huron University USA in London, where her husband John was a professor. She retired in 2003.

Runnette's interests and aptitudes were far ranging: art of course, but also music, theatre, travel and gardening. She produced drawings, sketches and some delightful cartoons, fondly remembered by friends and colleagues. She had the ability to illustrate an anecdote as it was being told, adding the little humorous details that went straight to the root of the story and gave it life. She brought to each of the gardens she and John developed a designer's eye and the enthusiasm and expertise of a professional plants man. In retirement she acquired another interest: she became a founder member of the Bear Ladies. This was an investment club which encouraged local female friends and neighbours to meet in an informal, relaxed atmosphere, to find out more about stocks, shares and investment. Jill relished these meetings, especially the good-natured argument which frequently took place!

During her final months, Jill continued to meet with friends and pursue her various interests and activities. She was a concerned and sympathetic friend and a good companion, always urging people to look forward to new opportunities rather than dwelling on what had gone before. She sometimes appeared austere, but this disguised a feisty woman with a mischievous sense of humour and an appetite for life.

Patricia Ward

Jill Runnette, campaigner and teacher: born 25 October 1938; married 1960 John Runnette (one son); died 2 June 2009.