Greta Joachim, Windrush school worker who overcame challenge of autism

She spent over 30 years at Hereward House School

Tuesday, 3rd May — By Tom Foot

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Greta Joachim with Leonie Sampson, the former headteacher who showed her kindness during the years she worked at Hereward House in Belsize Park

GRETA Joachim, who has died aged 85, faced an unexpected challenge after following her parents to Camden from Trinidad in 1955, one of the Windrush generation.

She became one of the first women in the UK to be diagnosed with autism at a time when the condition was not only misunderstood but actively disparaged.

Her daughter Annie this week spoke about the “complex relationship” between a child and an autistic parent.

Greta worked for decades, until the age of 75, in the kitchen of Hereward House independent school in Strathray Gardens, Belsize Park, under the stewardship of an understanding headteacher.

Annie said: “My grandmother Eldica would take her to lots of specialists. Autism wasn’t what it is now. There was a stigma to having any difficulty with anything back then. There was always the fear that we might get taken into care. So it was kept quiet and it was only in the 1990s that I was told it was autism.”

She added: “I started to realise things like how mum had gone to bed at 10pm on the dot, and had done that forever. She ate at exactly the same time each day. She had this habit of putting a lot of things in carrier bags, her thing was to knot things. That was her way of containing things.

Greta Joachim

“She was my mum and I wanted to be respectful of that, but I was also caring for her at the same time.”

The family’s first home was in a shared house in Camden Park Road, before getting their own flat near the top of Lulworth tower in Agar Grove and later moving to the Maiden Lane Estate.

“One thing that would be good to come out of this is it might encourage people to say, ‘Oh yeah, what about my mum or my gran?’,” Annie said. “Perhaps they have been suffering in the same way in silence? There has to be so many older people with autism. If you think about it, there has to be. But you never hear about them.”

Greta’s father, Peter Joachim, was a well-known trumpeter who had played in Winnie Atwell’s band.

She met her husband, “Nat” Oswald Joseph, in the queue at the Coronet Cinema – now a pub – in Holloway Road.

Annie said: “Funnily enough we took her to eat there for Sunday lunch, quite randomly, and she was telling us this story. “We were trying to work out where this cinema was and then we realised we were in it.”

Annie said the school’s headteacher, Leonie Sampson, now 91, had shown her kindness throughout her life.

Ms Sampson said: “Greta l. Her cheerful presence and sweet nature contributed greatly to the harmony and efficiency of the catering department. It was a sad day for us when she retired, we all miss her lovely smile.”

In retirement, Greta’s favourite spot was at the Charlie Ratchford Centre in Chalk Farm.

“She never really settled after they shut that down and moved her to the Kingsgate Centre in Kilburn,” said Annie. “I don’t know whose decision that was but the impact that had on my mum and others was huge.”

The family went back to Trinidad in 2000 to see her old home and school.

“It was the only time in her life she caught a plane,” said Annie. “She used to go to Isle of Wight for her holidays.”

The Rose Garden in Regent’s Park was also her favourite spot to relax and she also loved to dance calypso at the Notting Hill Carnival.

Annie said: “Mum worked. She had two children. I went to university, my sister is a head chef. So it can be done, and I think some people will find that remarkable. I think also the message I wanted to convey, there is a lot of awareness around young people with autism, but not enough about how does an elderly person who is autistic age?”

Greta leaves behind two daughters, Annie and Julie, and granddaughter Skye.

Her funeral will take place at 1pm at Islington and St Pancras Cemetery on May 6 and a procession will leave St Paul’s Crescent at the Agar Grove.

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