Ex-Suffolk teacher dies in house blaze

THE devastated brother of a retired teacher who died in a house fire has today paid tribute to the “popular and gregarious” woman.

THE devastated brother of a retired teacher who died in a house fire has today paid tribute to the “popular and gregarious” woman.

Margaret Mason, who used to teach in Ipswich, died alongside her beloved Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Peppermint in a blaze at her home in Norwich Road, Poringland, in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

The cause of the fire is still unknown and is currently being investigated by police.

As tributes poured in for the 71-year-old, a teenage girl who raised the alarm after she saw smoke coming from the house told of the dramatic ordeal.

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Her brother Joe Mason, 60, who visited his older sister once a week, said a lot of people were “shocked and saddened” by her death.

He said: “My sister had a lot of friends, she was always busy. She was pretty gregarious really - always out and about doing things.

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“She was into traditional activities such as lace-making, attending church and bee-keeping. She also loved her dog and other animals.

“One of her enjoyments in life was walking Peppermint. She will be missed by such a lot of people.”

Ms Mason also had another sister Christine, a university professor, who now lives in Canada and Ms Mason went to visit her and her three children last year.

Mr Mason, who has two children and lives with his wife Molly in Taverham, said his sister was well known in Norfolk but also had friends all over the world. Ms Mason, who did not marry and didn't have children, taught at Hethersett Old Hall School, as well as in Ipswich and Guernsey and she was also involved with the Girl Guides.

Mr Mason said: “She was a lot of fun. I think we are all still shocked by what happened.

“I am keen to know the results of the investigation because I really don't know what happened, it all sounds horrendous really. My sister will be missed so much.”

Hollie Skipper, 17, raised the alarm at about 12.30am on Wednesday after she saw smoke coming from the roof of Ms Mason's bungalow as she was driven home from babysitting by family friend Simon Tomlinson.

Hollie, a sales assistant in a clothes shop on St Stephens Street, who lives close by in Highland, ran to Ms Mason's house with Mr Tomlinson and her father David, 41, before they were joined by a passing police officer.

She said: “It was horrible - I was so scared, I was really panicking. I didn't know the lady but I always used to see her in the garden with her dog. It's so sad.

“At first we thought it might be a chimney fire but then we saw flames coming out of the tiles. It looked like someone was in because there was a car in the drive, so my dad knocked on the front door and noticed it was unlocked.

“He opened it and smoke came billowing out - the whole place was full of smoke. He could see a dog lying on the floor in the hallway and pulled it out, but it had died.”

After finding the hallway full of smoke, Mr Skipper smashed a window with a brick to find out if there was anyone inside.

The builder, who also lives in Highlands, said: “It is really gutting. A police car happened to drive past and I think he thought we were burgling the place, but the policeman got out and joined us, and radioed for help.

“I smashed the front window with a brick because we couldn't see through the glass and the policeman's truncheon wouldn't break it, but the room was full of smoke, and then we went round the back and there were flames in the living room area.

“I had cut myself quite badly on the glass but didn't notice at the time.

“Then as soon as the fire brigade got here they went in and after a short while they discovered a lady was in the house.”

When fire services and police arrived, the pensioner had already died.

Martin Barsby, spokesman for the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service, said: “We would like to express our sympathy to the woman's family.

“Two crews from Norwich and one from North Earlham attended, and found the woman and her dog. They put the fire out and the fire investigation team have been working with the police to compile a file to give to Her Majesty's Coroner.”

A police spokeswoman said: “The circumstances surrounding the cause of the fire remain unclear and police officers and Norfolk Fire and Rescue officers are continuing to investigate.

“Norfolk Constabulary can confirm that sadly an elderly lady died as a result of the fire.”

Although an Anglican, Ms Mason, attended the Framingham Earl Methodist Church, and Revd Derek Grimshaw, the minister at the church, said she used to do frequent readings there.

“She was a lovely person,” he said. “She was a retired school teacher and she was very committed to her work.”

Her neighbour, Graham McRobert, 76, said he had known Ms Mason for more than 50 years, and walked her dogs for her several times a day. He said: “It's a shock. It's been a very traumatic experience.”

Gillian Mortimer, head of the juniors at Hethersett Old Hall School, who worked with Ms Mason for several years, said that she retired in July 1998 but often came back to the school for reunions.

“She was very clever and a lot of fun,” she said. “She used to teach seven and eight year olds and the children adored her. She always had a little spaniel with her - that's the kind of teacher she was.

“She was passionate about history and Latin and enjoyed travelling and visiting her sister in Canada. She was a very learned woman and we spent hours doing crosswords together.”

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