But it was only after retiring that he was diagnosed with the incurable cancer mesothelioma. The father-of-five and grandfather-of-seven’s condition deteriorated and he died aged 81, in a hospice close to his home in Stoke in August last year.
An inquest at North Staffordshire Coroners’ Court ruled that Bernard, who was born and raised in Bolton, died from industrial disease.
The former marine commando started teaching in 1957 and worked at schools including Bolton’s Smithills, Heywood Secondary School near Bury, Flixton Girls’ School, St Michael’s Church of England Secondary School in Chorley and Royton and Crompton Secondary School in Oldham.
He recalled using asbestos mats for Bunsen burners in one of the schools and described ‘dusty’ store cupboards at some of the others. Bernard took early retirement from Royton and Crompton in 1984, but continued to work as a supply teacher for several years afterwards.
His widow Maureen, 59, mother to sons Andrew, 21, and Jerett, 18, who have autism, said:
“Bernard was not just my husband, he was my soulmate and I just want to know if anything more could have been done to save him. He was very health conscious. He never smoked, he rarely drank and he liked to keep fit.
“But almost overnight he turned into a decrepit old man who could no longer keep up with the boys. He would cough so much that he couldn’t catch his breath. He was so tired and weak and scared because he didn’t want to leave me and the boys. It’s during his time teaching that I believe Bernard was exposed.”
Maureen has now instructed industrial disease experts at law firm Slater and Gordon to help her find answers about her husband’s death. Her lawyer, Kevin Johnson, said:
“Bernard dedicated his life to teaching and the thought that he may have been exposed to asbestos because of it was absolutely devastating for him.
His family would like to know if more could and should have been done to protect him. The smallest detail could be vital so if anyone remembers working with him in places where they may have been exposed to asbestos, we would urge them to get in touch.”
Anyone wanting to get in touch can call Kevin Johnson on 0151 353 9930 or email Kevin.Johnson@