A PIANIST whose passion for music influenced the lives of thousands of youngsters over a career spanning almost eight decades has died, aged 92.

Reita Pierce fell in love with the piano while attending church as a girl and thanks to the resident organ player’s gift of a handful of music books, her future in the business was born.

From the modest age of 14 the devoted player was passing on her knowledge to aspiring musicians - teaching pupils and in schools across South Durham until she took her last pupil on at the age of 86.

Born in Ferryhill on August 8, 1925, Mrs Pierce was one of seven siblings.

One hundred yards from her family home was Ferryhill Methodist Church where she attended regularly for Sunday school.

Her fascination with the piano led her to discover her own talent on the keys and in her early teens she was already earning pocket money from teaching pupils.

She continued earning, learning and playing in dance bands where, at the age of about 17, she met her husband, drummer Ken Pierce.

The pair married three years later, on December 23, 1945, and they celebrated their 72nd anniversary last year.

Once the couple had had their only son, Malcolm, four years later, Mrs Pierce set herself a string of goals for the future.

Through her study these targets saw her become an associate member of the London College of Music in 1959 and complete a degree in music as an external student from the London Royal Academy of Music in 1963.

Equipped with her top achievements, Mrs Pierce became a peripatetic teacher the following year and taught youngsters across Ferryhill, Bowburn and Coxhoe.

In the early 1970s the musician took up her first post as a teacher in Ferryhill Grammar School, moving on to become head of music at The Avenue Comprehensive School, Newton Aycliffe, in 1975 and then taking up the same role at Woodham Comprehensive School about six years later.

At the age of 68 the dedicated teacher retired but continued tutoring pupils from home until attempting to give it up at 86.

On her birthday she could not turn away an 18-year-old who knocked at her door asking for lessons.

She accepted him as her final pupil and trained him up till passed his Grade 8.

During her time at the three schools she staged, produced and directed dozens of musicals including the likes of The Sound of Music, Oliver, The Wizard of Oz and Fiddler on the Roof.

Other musical highlights saw the player tinkle the ivories at Durham Cathedral, Blackpool Tower Ballroom.

She was even called upon for a week-long stint at Darlington’s Baths Hall when a jazz band’s pianist fell ill.

Tributes in their hundreds from those whose lives the WI member of 30 years had touched poured in on social media since her death.

Malcolm and wife Joyce said: “She has influenced and changed so many lives over the last 80 years through music.

"She made sure all pupils were given an important role to play and gave people self-belief. Music was her life.”

Mrs Pierce, who was the last surviving of her siblings, had dementia and died on February 12.

She is survived by her husband, son and wife, grandson Andrew and wife Georgia and two great grandchildren aged two and six months.

A funeral for Mrs Pierce was held at Ferryhill Methodist Church yesterday (Tuesday) followed by a cremation at Wear Valley Crematorium and a celebration of her life at Woodham Golf and Country Club.