Lives Remembered: Hilda Castell

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The Independent Online

Hilda Castell was a head teacher who was beloved of generations of her pupils at Rainham Primary School, and who had huge influence over hundreds of young people. At the ripe old age of 95 she was still in touch with former colleagues and pupils, and was still a regular at her college annual re-unions. It is no exaggeration to say that she was loved by them all.

That affection owed at least as much to her feisty personality, and extreme independence of thought, as to her softer qualities. She was truly a feisty lady who was – in the last two days of her fiercely independent life – telling her doctors what was what!

Hilda married Bob Brooks in Norwich in 1943, but they soon returned to their East London roots after the War. Bob was ever the gentle counter to her strong personality, and she loved him for it. After a period in Forest Gate they settled in Wanstead. Her beloved Bob died there in 1962 but Hilda never left, until her final illness, when she very peacefully died in Whipp's Cross Hospital on Tuesday 12 July.

Her connection with The Independent is entirely the fault of Robert Fisk. Always an avid seeker of the facts – particularly in the murky area ofIsraeli mistreatment of the Palestinians – she found "Fisky" at The Times to be her ideal defender of the truth. When he – an early rejecter of theMurdoch modus operandi – defected to The Independent, she defectedwith him. She was still assiduously reading the paper up to four daysbefore her death. Among her proudest moments was when I tookher a few years ago to ImperialCollege, London, for "An Evening with Robert Fisk", where he signed her copy of Pity The Nation. She treasured it to the end.

She will be hugely missed by more people than her humble status in our celebrity world would suggest. She was a model of feminism and opposition to oppression to the end of her long life. The publication of this modest tribute would be in the very best traditions of The Independent – which she loved to the end of her life.

Patrick Moore