The flag at Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s headquarters on Sandwick Road was at half-mast yesterday (Wednesday 15 March), as one of Stornoway Primary School’s popular teachers was laid to rest.
Rachael Cooke passed away suddenly last week, at the age of 62. Although she had health issues, she was continuing to work and her passing came as a shock to family and friends.
The sizeable attendance at her funeral service at the Church of Our Holy Redeemer was testament to her popularity and the affection she had earned from pupils and colleagues, past and present.
Rachael Alexa Faye Cooke was born in Blackpool in 1960.
She graduated from Lancaster University with a degree in education, having started her studies late, following an earlier career in the computer industry.
After several years of holidays to Scotland, she and her teenage son Richard made a permanent move to Lewis in 2004 and immersed themselves in island life.
Rachael initially worked at Bayble School, but also taught at Tolsta and Laxdale, then worked as a supply teacher across many primary schools, before starting her final and longest period at Stornoway Primary School.
A devoted educationalist, she taught herself Gaelic to such a level of fluency that she was able to teach in Gaelic and became part of the GME team.
Stornoway Primary’s head of school Peigi MacLean said: “Mrs Cooke was very interested in our local heritage and culture. She made such an effort to learn Gaelic and spoke Gaelic to the pupils and staff as much as possible.
“She really enjoyed working alongside the teachers and pupils in both our Gaelic and English classes. She was a valued member of staff and always greeted everyone with a smile. Mrs Cooke will be sorely missed by the school community.”
Still working up until her death, Rachael was also pursuing a degree in health studies at the Open University, from which she was expecting to graduate in September after seven years of study.
Son Richard described her as chatty, enthusiastic and dedicated to teaching.
He said: “She loved inspiring kids and wanted to make their schooldays memorable and full of interest.
“I have heard in the past few days that some of her former pupils have gone into teaching as a career because of their experience of Mum as a teacher.
“She had a big influence on people’s lives and perhaps didn’t really appreciate how much influence she had and how fond people were of her.”
At her home in Lower Bayble she indulged a family of cats and always had one, sometimes two Labradors.
She is mourned by husband Robin, who is resident at Dun Berisay, son Richard in Tiree, daughter Alexa in Glasgow, sister Caroline in Blackpool and brother John in Australia.
Rachael is pictured walking Libby the labrador and at her son Richard’s graduation in 2016 (family pictures).