Wednesday, 5 February 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Margaret Morrissey

MANY, in and around the Dorchester area, will know of, or have met Margaret Morrissey, OBE. Editor of the parish magazine, active with the church, a former lay schools inspector and chair of the Poundbury Residents Association, Mrs Morrissey is also often quoted in the national press and regional and national broadcasters for her views on education and parenting. After years as chair and then spokesperson for National Confederation of Parent Teachers Association she founded her own organisation, Parents Outloud, when she ‘retired’ several years ago. And apart from all this Mrs Morrissey is more than active with her seven grandchildren, five of which live locally, and can often be seen being ferried around in a car which would otherwise be far too big for her and retired hotelier and publican, husband Patrick.

DO YOU have a problem saying ‘no’?
I agreed to do this interview, so yes! It is one of my problems – I often see something which needs sorting out and end up getting involved.

WHEN did you first come to Dorset?
About 1980 when Patrick took over the Worgret Manor Hotel at Wareham. We had met in Weybridge where he was a hotel manager, but he had always wanted to branch out on his own. We later moved to Poole and then came to Dorchester in 1990 at the Junction Hotel. I hated Dorset at first, after living in London, but I soon grew to love it.

AND what did you do before starting a family?
I trained as a nurse, did some agency work and also worked for Securicor for while. I was at Queen Charlotte Hospital working on the unit where they pioneered changing a baby’s blood, which was very exciting and very cutting edge at the time. Our first child was born at Barts which technically makes her a cockney and gives her the right to drive sheep over Westminster Bridge, although she hasn’t tried it yet.

HOW did you get involved in educational matters?
The head at the nursery heard me complaining about a zebra crossing and told me I was just the person she needed. Before I knew it I was a school governor and on the PTA…that was the start of it and I never looked back from there. Her name was Mrs Grubb, I won’t forget her, my husband says she has a lot to answer for. I used to go along to the Inner London Education Authority and speak up on a number of issues.

AND how did your involvement continue in Dorset?
At the Worgret Manor some of the local persuaded me to stand for the town council in Wareham. Later David Jacob’s came to Swanage to broadcast “Any Questions” from the Mowlem Theatre. I put in a question about the teachers strike affecting my daughter’s education and he made a quip that with a mother like me, she ought to do just fine. The next day the phone didn’t stop ringing and myself and a few others called a meeting at the Purbeck School and started the All Dorset Parents Action Group. We used to hold breakfast meetings and ran a number of campaigns which often led to us going to London to lobby MPs and the Minister. Eventually we became the Dorset group of the National Confederation of Parent Teachers Association and I became involved nationally with the organisation as chair and later as spokesperson.

AND did you get to know many of the key players nationally?
Yes, but it’s a sad indictment that in 30 years or so of meeting with secretaries of state for education there was only one, John MacGregor, who seemed to genuinely care about children, and he only lasted a few months in the post. David Blunkett was very nice and used to phone me quite often until he became a Minister and then all I would get in response were letters addressed to Mrs Morrissey. John Patten even described me as a ‘Neanderthal’. Luckily I bit my lip and thought about my response when I was asked by the press what I thought about his comments on me. I also got to know all of the national paper journalists who write about education and many from the TV and radio, some of which still phone me today for my comments.

I GUESS you were quite academic at school?
Far from it, but I used to run church services, was the sports captain and was busy with lots of other things. Somehow I think everyone, including me, forgot about my education. There used to be a time when bits of paper weren’t that important but if I had my time again I might have made more effort. It certainly true now that you won’t even get a job interview for most things without the paper to prove you can pass an exam. 

HAS the church always played an important part in your life?
Yes, I started going to church as a child. It would be Sunday School in the morning and church in the evening. I’m not even really sure if I’m a believer, but I do believe in insurance.

AND apart from the church and Patrick what else is there that fills your time now you are retired?
The parish magazine takes quite a lot of time, there’s ten editions a year and the deadlines come around remarkably quickly. I do try and be organised and put items aside as I go along, but the biggest thing in my life is the grandchildren, all seven of them varying in age from four to sixteen. At the weekend I had all five of them and was exhausted when they went home, but I just love it.

ANY hobbies?
Knitting, but I’m reaching the point where the grandchildren tell me they’ve got enough cardigans! I also like reading poetry and gardening but I don’t really read novels or listen to music.

SO WAS your mother the biggest influence on your life?
Yes, she was a dressmaker and worked hard but she was always there when I got home from school. She was the nearest thing, in my eyes, to being a saint. It would have broken my heart to know that I had upset her, so I didn’t.

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