Renowned St Margaret's teacher farewelled after 42 years

Both current and past students, staff and parents of St Margaret’s farewelled retiring staff member Mary Surtees this week at an assembly dedicated to Mary’s 42 years of indelible service to the school.

Among the tributes from students and staff past and present, primary student Harriet Lee and her mother Philippa and secondary student Eliza Quayle and her mother Sally, shared their memories. These families, like so many St Margaret’s families, have experienced the influence of Ms Surtees as an educator across multiple generations, with both mothers and daughters having been taught by her.

“Once in a generation there comes a teacher whose name resonates, whose name is remembered, whose name becomes renowned,” Philippa said.

Harriet added that to all who were taught by her: “Ms Surtees is that teacher.”

“Everyone has a Ms Surtees story,” Philippa continued.

“Some recall interhouse t-ball on Churchill Lawn, performances both on and off the slopes at Thredbo or Friday afternoon aerobics choregraphed to the latest Madonna song. More than anything Ms Surtees they just remember you. You were such an indelible and integral presence in their school lives.”

Sally concluded with this touching homage: “Ms Surtees, you are St Margaret’s. You are irreplaceable. You are a friend to us all; to these girls here in uniform now and those of us who’ve worn the middy in years past. You never forget a face. You remember our families. You remember our strengths and our weaknesses. Beyond the school gates there are Old Girls across the globe from mothers to medecos, media types, athletes, artists, performers, farmers, financial advisers, philanthropists and future teachers, all inspired by and grateful for your influence, guidance and support. We thank you.”

Year 9 student Charlotte Steffen reminisced about her trip to Japan with Ms Surtees when she was in Year 5: “Under her guidance we navigated the Japanese rail system, tried many different foods, attended Konan Elementary for a day, rode the rollercoasters at Universal Studios and placed paper cranes at the children’s peace memorial site in Hiroshima.

“Miss Surtees, thank you for encouraging us to step out of our comfort zones and for teaching us the world can be our classroom,” Charlotte said.

St Margaret’s has had a Japanese sister school for many years, Konan Elementary. Ms Surtees’ love of other cultures and organisational skills have meant she has been integral to the success of this reciprocal cultural partnership. In recognition of this, students and staff from Konan Elementary created a special video message for Ms Surtees which was played during the assembly.

There were three very special, surprise music performances during the farewell. The first was Mary herself, playing the triangle alongside the strings ensemble and conducted by Johnny Ng. “I’ve always wanted to play triangle and now I can tick that off my bucket list,” Ms Surtees said.

The second, was a video message from Old Girl Annabelle Traves (’14) playing the school hymn “Oh Joyful Light” on violin all the way from Germany. The third was a performance of “Time to say goodbye” by Old Girl Xenia Puskarz-Thomas (’13), accompanied by the Primary Chorale and sung in Italian in honour of Ms Surtee’s love of languages.

Head of Primary Mrs Angela Drysdale has worked with Ms Surtees for almost half of Mary’s St Margaret’s career and spoke of the inspiration and impact she has had on the lives of so many students and staff.

“Like many of her students, the staff and I have learnt much from her. Mary has shown us what it means to be passionate about St Margaret’s; that adhering to your values earns the respect of yourself and others; the worth of having other interests so you are always challenging yourself; the importance of hard work, being organised and helping others; and, lastly, to just get on with it and do it.”

Addressing the gathering, Ms Surtees said she was looking forward to new challenges and experiences in retirement, including mastering the game of Mahjong with friends and hopefully, one day, travel.

As always, she imparted words of wisdom to the students: “I ask each and every one of you from our Preps all the way through to Year 12 to take every opportunity that comes your way. Grab on to it and allow it to take you to places and experiences yet to be lived.”

Thank you, Ms Surtees, and farewell: to the St Margaret’s community you will be always loved, never forgotten and forever missed.