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News > In Memoriam > Remembering Mrs Josephine Ruscoe, former Head of Classics

Remembering Mrs Josephine Ruscoe, former Head of Classics

Remembering Josephine Ruscoe
19 Nov 2020
In Memoriam

Mrs Josephine Ruscoe, known as Jo to many, was a much loved and valued member of the JAGS community, and made a huge contribution to the school over many years. She sadly passed away in September, as a result of blood cancer and dementia.

Jo joined the school in 1981. She taught at the school for over twenty years, becoming Head of Classics, and a highly respected teacher and form tutor. She retired in 2002, before moving to Athens with her husband.

She was a great inspiration to many pupils, and many alumnae of the school still think of her fondly today.

We are grateful to Jo’s friends, former colleagues and students for sharing their memories and recollections, which you can read below.













Jo was Head of Classics when I joined the school in as Headmistress in 1994 and she welcomed me warmly into the department as an additional Classics teacher. 

She was renowned for her meticulous organisation and lesson preparation. Her notes and handouts were always produced in many different colours, often with very decorative borders. Her students certainly enjoyed this. She was very computer literate, well ahead of many other staff, and she made good use of technology in her lessons.   Jo was very knowledgeable about correct Latin and Greek pronunciation and regularly trained girls for London-wide Latin and Greek Reading Competitions with much success. She was an inspirational teacher and she ensured that Classics thrived at JAGS.

Jo’s preferred pastoral role was as a Lower Fourth (Year 7) Form Tutor.  She paid huge attention to every detail to ensure that every girl in her form had the best possible first day at JAGS, laying out everything very carefully for them in advance. She was an excellent role model for new staff in how to be a Year 7 form tutor and trained many when they joined the school.

Jo had a real passion for Greece: she spoke Modern Greek fluently and spent her holidays in Greece. It was no surprise that she moved to Greece immediately on her retirement and set up her new home and life there. 

Jo made huge contribution to JAGS over many years; may she rest in peace.

Marion Gibbs, former Headmistress of JAGS


The first time I met Jo (as she was known to most of us) was when I came for interview to JAGS in the autumn of 1989. She had a distinctive way of turning her head and fixing a bird-like gaze on you, suggesting that she would not suffer fools gladly. In a lively, educated Scottish accent, she quizzed me on my Classical connections, and in no time at all we found common interests and acquaintances. Before long we were chatting away, and it was the beginning not only of an association at work but a friendship which lasted many years.

Indeed, the Easter holiday of the following year found me with my husband and young sons holidaying in Tolon on the Peloponnese, and who should we meet in the taverna but Jo and her husband Nick? I should not have been surprised: Jo was a serious Hellenophile. The day term ended, she would fly off to Greece - Athens in winter, Peloponnese in the spring, and her beloved island of Siphnos in the summer - to return only hours before the beginning of term staff meeting. She had friends all over Greece, and it is a great shame that soon after their long-awaited retirement there her husband died.

Jo’s enthusiasm for all things Greek, ancient and modern, and indeed all things Classical, communicated itself not only to her colleagues, but especially to her pupils. Her lessons were enlivened by her extensive broader knowledge, and in particular by her thorough expertise in authentic ancient pronunciation. Uniquely in the Classics department, she had a facility in speaking Latin and ancient Greek: unusually, some of her university degree had been conducted entirely in Latin! She trained up teams of pupils for the Classical Association’s Greek and Latin Reading Competition, and their success was in large part due to her knowledge and meticulous rehearsal and encouragement.

Nor was this the only extra-curricular activity from which pupils benefited. Jo was an active member of the London Association of Classics Teachers, and regularly took pupils to lectures and events arranged under their aegis; similarly, she served on the committee of the Joint Association of Classics Teachers and was a member of the ARLT (Association for the Reform of Latin teaching): all of us in the department were encouraged to take advantage of training and lecture days organised by these bodies, and pupils regularly attended study days and post-GCSE summer schools prior to sixth form Classics courses. Jo had a great rapport with Classics teachers from other schools, and regularly joined in social gatherings with them, where ideas were exchanged as well as much fun.

It will be no surprise then then to anyone reading this if I say that her commitment to her subject and her pupils was unparalleled. Her comments on pupils’ work – always in fine script in green ink- were meticulously considered and targeted. She would agonise over the mot juste in appraising a piece of course work – possibly more than the author of the essay. At open days, Jo was determined that Classics would put on a good show: her pride in pupils’ work was evident in the care she gave to selecting, arranging and displaying the girls’ submissions.

In popular culture, Classics is often associated with a fusty image, far from the cutting edge of technology; however, this is to do it an injustice, as it was one of the first subjects on the curriculum to make use of progress in technology: Classics and IT were early natural partners and Jo was a keen supporter of these developments. She teamed up with Peter Sanders in the IT department at JAGS to introduce pupils to using computer programs (which he devised with another Classicist) to practise language and grammar. When the USA put public funding into Classics and IT through the Perseus Project, Jo endorsed its use and it became a mainstay resource in the department. Jo’s interest and expertise in this area were also of great assistance in her role as a timetabler, in which she excelled. I should say that in pre-technology days she had already earned great respect for her timetabling skills using a vast board and coloured pegs.

One quality which, as a member of the department, I cannot fail to mention is Jo’s generosity. As a form tutor and a class teacher, she loved giving little treats to the girls, and we, her colleagues, regularly enjoyed her hospitality as well as gifts. I still have a Greek mug and an olive wood chopping board which remind me of her whenever I use them.

Former colleagues and pupils will saddened to learn of Jo’s death; however, the abiding memory of her will be her love of the Classical world, which she shared with so many and in the words of Thucydides is a κτῆμά ἐς αἰεὶ (‘possession for ever’).

Frances Shaw, former Classics teacher


Jo was Head of Classics when I first met her at a Classics Association lunch, and she subsequently hired me as a substitute for one of her staff on sabbatical, and then for another’s maternity leave. I ended up staying for 19 years and she became a very good friend. She was a unique individual with a wry and quirky sense of humour! Despite being an excellent classicist and a great Head of Dept, she was always modest and self-deprecating. She set high standards for herself: a perfectionist, she would spend hours on whatever she was producing for the girls, or the classroom, never settling for anything unless it was perfect. She would be in school late into the evening the day before Founder’s Day making sure the Classics Display was perfect! She was of the old school of teaching, and so wasn’t enthusiastic when technology began to play a large part in teaching.  She much preferred to teach by the force of her personality!! The girls loved her. Outside the classroom, she hated being in the spotlight, so she was much relieved when her leaving speech to the staff was over! Her dream was to retire to Greece, (she was fluent in modern Greek) and I lost contact with her then apart from the occasional link on Facebook. I am so sorry to hear of her premature death.

Cherie Millsom, former Classics teacher


Jo was a valued Head of Department and friend. She was cheerful and approachable, genuinely concerned for people's welfare and quick to understand others' points of view. In her work she was meticulous and innovative, always taking time and trouble that everything she embarked on should be perfect.  She was respected in Classics circles for her breadth of knowledge, particularly for all aspects of ancient Greek life, some little known; she introduced me to spinning and weaving and  was an authority on the pronunciation of the language . She was always keen to acquire new knowledge and ready to share it. She had a ready and at times unconventional sense of humour and liked to keep abreast of events. She promoted Classics and forged links with other schools including taking part in competitions. Every year trainee teachers would come to JAGS.

She welcomed me into the Department and into her home.  She and Nick, her husband, had always hoped to retire to Greece and their dream was fulfilled albeit for a short time together there.

She made her mark in Classics and in her wide circle of friends. She is remembered with affection.

Ruth Jones, Classics teacher at JAGS 1987-2015


Mrs Ruscoe was an inspiring, brilliant and caring teacher. She taught me from 1984 to 1991 and I have many happy memories of my early Latin lessons, including the character Caecilius and our regular vocabulary tests, always delivered with warmth and enthusiasm.

By the time I was taking GCSEs I had already decided to take Latin A Level and when Mrs Ruscoe started teaching me Ancient Greek, my enthusiasm for the Classics soared. Mrs Ruscoe very kindly taught a small group of us Greek for fun as an extra class during Upper Five (Year 11). It is testament to her ability to make learning such a pleasure that we all chose to learn a new subject in the very year when it could have been tempting just to focus on our pending examinations. Indeed, Mrs Ruscoe inspired us to spend some of our summer holiday immediately after GCSEs at the JACT (Joint Association of Classical Teachers) Greek summer school. This, combined with Mrs Ruscoe’s excellent teaching, enabled us to embark on the Greek A Level course after just one year of studying it.

Latin and Greek lessons with Mrs Ruscoe were enormous fun, full of energy and commitment, and we learned a huge amount. Whenever we translated the Latin and Greek literature which Mrs Ruscoe loved so much, she would treat us first to a recital of the lines, observing the wonderful metre with which the ancient poets had composed. She conveyed the beauty of the languages as well as the drama, the passion and the comedy. She would then invite us to read out loud and was meticulous in teaching us the details of pronunciation of Ancient Greek. Those of us who were shy gained confidence in doing this and we even took part in Greek speaking competitions in London. Mrs Ruscoe also arranged trips for us to see Greek plays in London and Cambridge, usually performed in the original Greek, and these outings were another highlight of our studies.

I also remember fondly Mrs Ruscoe’s love of cats and her cheerful, colourful jumpers (a favourite was a bright pink one with black cats). Combined with her warm smile, infectious laugh and sparkling eyes, seeing Mrs Ruscoe around school was always sure to brighten one’s day.

Many years later, after a Classics degree at Cambridge and a career as a solicitor, I found myself drawn back to Classics and the classroom. I started teaching Latin and Greek and during this time I began to reflect on my own days at school. I found myself teaching (I hope!) as I remembered Mrs Ruscoe teaching me. I would repeat her anecdotes and pass on her tips for pronunciation of Greek. I told my pupils and their parents all about the wonderful experiences I had had thanks to my own Classics teacher, a story they all enjoyed, so Mrs Ruscoe became quite legendary!

I have now been teaching and tutoring in Classics for over 10 years and Mrs Ruscoe continues to inspire me. She was a great role model and full of kindness. Her legacy will live on in all those whom she taught.

Caroline Mackenzie (née Dargie), former JAGS pupil

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