One of the UK’s most renowned headteachers and an aide to Prince Charles has died from brain cancer.
Bernice McCabe, who was head of North London Collegiate School until 2017, died peacefully at home in the early hours of yesterday morning, it was announced this afternoon. She was 66.
She revealed in the Evening Standard last August that she had glioblastoma, the same incurable brain cancer that killed Olympics minister Tessa Jowell.
Her aim in making public her condition was to support a campaign to make immunotherapy available on the NHS for brain tumours.
Bernice McCabe receiving her OBE earlier this year
A school statement today said that Mrs McCabe had faced the last year with “remarkable courage and dignity” but her condition had worsened recently.
Headmistress Sarah Clark said: “Bernice McCabe was an extraordinary leader, and a wonderful friend and colleague. She will be deeply missed.”
She said Mrs McCabe was an “inspiring educationalist, whose interests and energies were manifold”.
Mrs Clark added: “She was committed to providing educational opportunities for children who otherwise would not have been able to afford them here at school.”
A book of condolence was being opened and a memorial will take place to remember and celebrate her life later this year, the school said.
Donations were encouraged to the National Brain Appeal and the school’s Bernice McCabe Bursary Fund.
Mrs McCabe had received the immunotherapy drug ipilimumab as a private patient at University College London Hospital.
Last month a trial of the drug for NHS patients, described as the biggest potential advance in treating brain tumours in decades, opened at UCLH’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery.
She was diagnosed with grade 4 glioblastoma in January last year and underwent neurosurgery to remove 90 per cent of the tumour. She said the drugs shrunk the remaining tumour by half and gave her a better quality of life.
Mrs McCabe stepped down as head of North London Collegiate School, an independent fee-paying girls’ school in Edgware, after 20 years in August 2017 but remained a consultant.
She told the Standard last year: “I have never shed a tear or felt the slightest bit of anger about what has happened to me. What is the point? These few months that I have had are priceless.
“I’ve had hundreds of wonderful cards from colleagues and former students. They have been enormously bolstering.
“I want to show them that it’s possible to fight a good battle against cancer. A lot of people feel that the treatment is utterly terrifying and appalling. I have not found that to be so. I have suffered very, very few side effects.
“It’s never been presented to me as a cure. It’s been presented to me as something that could potentially work to improve the length of life and quality of life.”
The school’s former pupils include Anna Wintour, Rachel Weisz and Esther Rantzen. Mrs McCabe’s tumour was discovered when she fell ill on returning from the school’s sister institution in South Korea.
She received a marriage proposal from long-term partner Rod MacKinnon, 60, also a headteacher, the day before surgery at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge, last February. They married at St Bride’s church, Fleet Street, in April.
She was awarded an OBE in the 2018 New year’s honours list and was well enough to receive it from Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace last June.
Glioblastoma is the most common and most aggressive brain tumour, with about 2,200 UK cases a year. Baroness Jowell died in May last year aged 70.
The Prince’s Teaching Institute, of which Mrs McCabe was co-director, today said her vision for education inspired teachers and students across the country. It described her as “one of the UK’s finest educators”.
The institute, now known as the PTI, was founded by Prince Charles in 2006 following Mrs McCabe’s work in setting up The Prince of Wales Education Summer Schools in 2002.
Keith Breslauer, chairman of the PTI, said: “The world has lost a bright light. However, she leaves an impressive and important legacy.
“Bernice has influenced thousands and thousands of young people and thousands of teachers, and so her greatness multiplies across over a million plus people.
“On a personal level, my family was influenced for the better by her teaching and guidance.”
Co-Director of the PTI Chris Pope said: “The country has lost one of its greatest educationalists. She believed passionately that every child, whatever their background or ability, deserved an excellent education.
“From her long experience in teaching, she came to understand that this means having schools where every teacher is passionate and knowledgeable about the subject they teach, and that through their skill as empowered professionals they would pass on this love of subject to their students.
“The success of this philosophy is evident from the schools that she led, latterly North London Collegiate School which became a beacon of international excellence under her leadership.”