SINGAPORE – Education centre founder Julia Gabriel, a well-known figure in early childhood education, died early Monday morning (July 22) after battling cancer for more than 10 years.

She was 67.

Ms Gabriel, a British citizen who is a Singapore permanent resident, opened the Julia Gabriel Speech and Drama Centre for children in 1990 to provide a different learning experience for children.

Her son Mark Gabriel, 44, a director and senior teacher at the centre, told The Straits Times on Monday: “She was an incredibly caring and sensitive mother, somebody who was always there for me and my sister, always encouraging and inspiring us.”

She inspired him to be a teacher as well. It led him to obtain a Masters in Education from Cambridge University in England, specialising in arts, culture and education.

Mr Gabriel also spoke of the way she inspired children and even adults to use elements of drama to make it an enjoyable learning process.

“Anyone who knows her knew she was always a joy to be around,” he added.

Colleagues, like the centre’s group managing director Fiona Walker, hailed her as a role model who motivated them to “be their best selves.

Ms Walker, who had worked with Ms Gabriel since 1991, said: “Julia leaves behind a legacy that will live on forever, which she built with love, dedication and generous spirit of sharing and teaching.

She added: “For everyone whom she came into contact with, she had empowered and enabled them to really be their best selves.”

The family will hold a private wake, with plans for a memorial service in a few weeks’ time that members of the public can attend.

Ms Gabriel was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. After surgery and chemotherapy, she was given the all-clear.

In 2014, the cancer came back – in the peritoneum, which lines the inside wall of the abdomen. She had surgery and chemotherapy, but the cancer returned again.

Trained at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and the London College of Music, Ms Gabriel leaves a strong legacy in early childhood education with her trademarked teaching methodology: EduDrama.

It combines drama with planned educational outcomes to foster learning through interaction and active involvement in young children.

“She had a strong belief that incorporating elements of drama and role play into learning was the best way to build people’s confidence and their ability to use language and express themselves,” said Mr Gabriel.

She began teaching in Singapore in 1983, at her home with 21 pupils, including her own children and those of friends.

By 1990, the classes were so successful that the Julia Gabriel Speech and Drama Centre was opened in Halifax Road.

In 1998, it moved to its current location at Forum The Shopping Mall in Orchard and now has a branch in Tampines as well.

It also has six centres overseas, in China, Indonesia and Malaysia.

There are also five Chiltern House pre-schools in Singapore that come under the Julia Gabriel Education Group.

Facebook user Karina Giam, who was among several to post tributes, wrote: “I am thankful to have the opportunity to learn under Ms Julia many years ago when I started out as a speech and drama teacher.

“Her passion has inspired me greatly.”