Treasured by pupils, Brecknock School leads tributes to Maria Panayiotou
'Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care'
19 May, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
FRIENDS and colleagues have paid tribute to a teaching assistant who devoted nearly three decades to a Camden Town primary school, after she died aged 58.
Maria Panayiotou was a popular figure at Brecknock School, in Cliff Villas, where she was remembered this week for her caring nature and kindness towards pupils. A new “reading den” in the school playground is to be named in her honour.
Deputy headteacher Tiggy Mitchell, who worked with Maria for 20 years, said: “Many of us will remember her love of dressing up. She planned her outfits for World Book Day so carefully and threw herself into these and many other school events so willingly. She was usually the most colourful too. She was always beautifully turned out and even though her use of rubber gloves and aprons, whenever the paint-pots came out, made me and others smile and tease her. She carried off the disruption to her careful colour coordination with style.”
Ms Mitchell added: “Having spoken to some of the children in Brecknock about Maria, it was her kindness and care that rang out. It was her willingness to listen that was always there. They treasured her. She prioritised children and they knew it. Schools can be very busy places but Maria always made time for the children. There is a saying attributed to Theodore Roosevelt: ‘Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.’”
Maria was born in Battersea, the daughter of Charalabos and Shirley Neofitou. Her father had come to London from Cyprus in 1956; her mother was English. The family lived for a time in Tooting Bec. When she was 21, she met her future husband, Lucas Panayiotou, who had moved to Camden Town from a village near Larnaca in Cyprus in 1970.
The couple married at All Saints Church, in Camden Street, in 1981 and had three children, Charlie, Christina and Peter. They lived in Maiden Lane, and in the late 1980s Maria started working at Brecknock, where her children also attended school. Working with many different teachers, she became known as a mother figure to newly-qualified staff.
Away from work, she had a soft spot for Elvis, Cher and Abba, and was a fan of 60s music. A central figure in a large extended family of around 80 relatives, she always cooked an evening meal while listening to London Greek Radio.
Lucas recalled: “She always had time for everyone, and never once lost her temper or raised her voice. She had beautiful, beautiful eyes and was passionate about her work and her family.”
Brecknock headteacher Marianne Porter said: “Maria was part of the fabric of the school and she will be greatly missed by all of the Brecknock community. She exuded positivity and joy. Maria cared, and staff and children knew that and loved her for it.”
Maria died from stomach cancer two weeks ago.