HER personal warmth and encouragement of talent continue to be memories of those who knew former South Shields Girls’ Grammar School head Gillian Harris.
Miss Harris, who was 92, died recently in Hampshire, which had been her home for many years.
I’ve since heard from June Henriksen, in Northumberland, who as well as being a former pupil, became a teacher of English at the school in 1968, shortly after Miss Harris’s arrival.
“I was one of Mrs Barraclough’s Babes, as she termed her young staff in the English Department she headed,” remembers June. “Mrs Barraclough was the wife of the Chief Education Officer.”
She recalls, as do so many of we old girls, that being called to Miss Harris’s office was quite an experience, as she always had her cat with her.
“And it wasn’t always content to sit still during interviews,” says June. “She carried it with her up and down the stone stairs and around the building.”
But she also recalls that Miss Harris tried to bring new and exciting ideas to the school.
“She had all the sixth form balloted to find out if they would like to wear their own clothes to school rather than uniform. But, like us when we were pupils, they were all quite conservative and practical and declined the offer. After all, in the Sixth you could wear tights and look almost as smart as an air stewardess in your uniform, if you chose to. Those were the days.”
Says June: “Gillian Harris never forgot her pupils or their families and loved to hear of their exploits in later life. She knew my mother, Margaret Hedley, who was in charge of the general office at Personnel Services in Westoe Village, and often enquired about her and my sister, Lesley.
“She found out that I had taken up painting again as a hobby, and invited me round to her bungalow to show me what she did and how she organised her painting. She painted al fresco in front of the historical buildings she went to see on her many holidays abroad. She took a tiny painting kit and folding stool and set up wherever she wished to.
“Her art was swiftly done in watercolours, a sketched impression of the scene, and many of her paintings were very striking. She had had a grandfather or uncle who had made a name for himself by his painting in the past and this encouraged her to take it up. She certainly gave me some ideas and much inspiration.
“Her long letters told of her many activities, and visits to relatives and friends. She remained proactive, busy and cheerful for as long as we heard from her.
“She will certainly be missed by those of us who remember her and knew her to be a very capable and kindly figure.”
The accompanying picture is of Miss Harris, left, with, next to her, Miss Annie Goudie, presenting gifts to retiring staff members Annie Brewis, Muriel Lishman and Beryl Hargreaves.