Christina Frances Sutherland

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On Christmas Day 1950, Miss Christina Frances Sutherland arrived in Trinidad to be the Head Mistress of Bishop Anstey High School - St. Hilary's, for the next fourteen years. She was 43 years old, with some experience of teaching in girls' schools and in a training college and knew precisely what she did not want from a head mistress. She was the third head mistress of Bishop Anstey High School, the third "S" following Miss A.M. Stephens or "Madam" 1921-1938, and Miss Dorothy Shrewsbury, who now lives in New Zealand, 1938-1950. The last non-Trinidadian head mistress, Miss Sutherland thought it was just the right time for her to leave in 1964, after Independence, so that our Miss Stephanie Shurland could step in.

I distinctly remember Miss Shrewsbury as a very quiet lady of about 5 feet 4 inches in height with shortish pepper and salt hair. Miss Sutherland or "Suds" as we called her was much taller, definitely more dominant in manner and very religious. They both lived in the principal's flat above the school.

Miss Sutherland last visited us in Trinidad and Tobago in the late 80's. We had tea with her and to me she remained the lady of upright stature and brisk gait who commanded total obedience to the school's rules, without ever having to raise her voice.

Christina Frances Sutherland died on December 1, 2000 in England at the age of ninety-three. At a service of Thanksgiving for her life conducted by Bishop Rawle Douglin last Saturday morning at All Saints Anglican Church, a former student Jacqueline Cameron- Padmore, who had visited Miss Sutherland at her home in Devon in November 1995 with Margaret Rouse-Jones and Marjorie Wong- Smith, eulogised the woman who had helped to shape the lives of so many in this country who continue to live out the time-honoured traditions of Bishop Anstey High School. And also in Carriacou where upon retiring from BAHS in 1964 she became the Head Mistress of a small girls' high school.

Hereunder are some excerpts from Cameron-Padmore's eulogy. "We wanted to see "Suds" after all these years to see what she was now like. How had she aged? Would we recognize her? What would she remember about us?.... What was immediately evident was that Miss Sutherland was still very much in control.

She had made all the arrangements for our stay with a friend of hers who ran a Bed & Breakfast in the village, even requesting a special dinner with wine, which she shared with us. She met us at the train station and we realized that she had aged as we thought she would have. She was not quite as tall as we had remembered, but well covered, still held her head at that different angle and still had that strange eye. Her hair was almost completely white, thinned a bit but still worn in the familiar style. An elderly gentleman who had been a friend of her brother's and whose job it was to take her about, as she no longer drove herself because of her compromised vision, accompanied her. In a little old station wagon, very reminiscent of her Morris Minor with the accompanying dog hairs and blanket (shades of Vixen and Rufus the dogs she owned in Trinidad), we were taken on a short tour of the district while she filled us in with little known stories about the history of that part of southern England.

Ms. Sutherland had moved to the village of Malborough in 1980 to a quaint cottage on a small housing estate and continued to be involved with the Church as a Licensed Reader until 1987, and to preach until her stroke in 1996.... We remembered those years of having had her "preach" to us at assemblies and in the chapel.

She described the '50s as " the decade when it all happened" and expressed real delight at having been in Trinidad and Tobago just prior to, and at the time of its transition to Independence. In 1951 there were more elected individuals in the House of Representatives than had been previously appointed by the Colonial Government. This then was the beginning of a new era and seemed to her to offer considerable excitement and promise.

Among the major events that marked the decade of the '50s for her, was the expanded school curriculum. Not only were Hilarians expected to be "clean and tidy, gentle, kind, quiet voiced, hardworking and honest," but also to have a sound knowledge of the English Language and to have acquired some creditable level of proficiency in Spanish, French, Latin, Art, Sciences, History, Geography, Music, Needlework, Cookery (Housecraft), Shorthand, Typing and Book keeping.

Ms. Sutherland expressed the view that it did not matter who you were or what your academic ability was, you should know how to cook and she introduced Cookery.... She also introduced more athletics and spoke about several girls, calling them by name - Marilyn Bailey, Monica Sobers and Malvery Payne, who had proudly represented the school at hockey. She was happy to learn of some of their later contributions to the society.

With the '50s came the real revolution of the change of school uniform. The heavy long serge pleated skirts, shapeless white bodice - 9" below the waist - knickers, black laced-up shoes and panama hat were all replaced with the six-gore moygashell linen skirt which was easier to launder, shorter white blouses, casual softer shoes with white socks and the piece de resistance - the hat.

We were extremely surprised to discover that Ms. Sutherland had never been in favour of the hat. She considered a hat to be un- necessary and a woolen one at that, to be "ridiculous." (Her word.) She admitted however that it had only become part of the uniform a year or two before she arrived and it was not worth an argument with her staff trying to get rid of it.

As a member of the Education Committee for the Anglican Church and of the Secondary School Principals' Association, she worked tirelessly with the then principal of St. Mary's College, the late Fr. Pedro Valdez and a principal of a Canadian Presbyterian school, to obtain for the staff of these schools benefits that were on par with those received by the staff of Queen's Royal College. e.g sick leave, salaries and retirement benefits. At that time, Queen's Royal College was the only secondary school that was government controlled. This financial recognition allowed Ms. Sutherland, to her absolute joy, the ability to recruit staff of a better caliber.

Although she had initially reluctantly come out to Trinidad and Tobago in response to a recruitment drive by the Anglican Church, Ms. Sutherland grew to love the twin islands and was able to recall exceptionally happy memories of the time she spent here. She shared anecdotes of Dr. Eric Williams as the politician for whom she held deep admiration, describing him as a "very clever man". She admired his charisma and vision for the people of Trinidad and Tobago. And remembered him as the parent who was very polite on the two or three occasions on which she met with him in his role of father.

She remembered support from almost all the parents who wanted their daughters educated, not only academically, and recalled their involvement in rehearsals for the Music Festival and the school's brilliant successes under Mrs. Spence. She mentioned parental support in the fund-raising for the school hall - the famous Talent Club. She had a good laugh at the time when she suggested to the staff that there was no longer any need for the Bazaar as the government had waived the balance due on a school repair loan, and recalled their expressed horror at the thought of Bishop Anstey without an annual bazaar and admitted that they had been absolutely right in not agreeing with her.

Her happiest memory was of Independence Day, August 31, 1962. She remembered walking down to Trinity Cathedral through crowds of people for the service at midnight where she had been given a reserved seat. She talked about the interdenominational prayers, the hopes of all the people, the happiness, the warmth and friendship that filled the entire country and wished that that wonderful day and feeling could have lasted.

These have been some of Ms. Sutherland's memories. What are ours of her? What legacy has she left to us? We know that she did not endear herself to everyone. For after all, contrary to what we might have thought when we were in school, she was only human. It does seem however that her life was an example of what Hilarians are. Christina Frances Sutherland remained attached to Bishop Anstey High School through the contribution she made to the school's breakfast fund up to the time of her final illness in 1996. Christina Frances Sutherland May 03, 1907 - December 01, 2000. "Well done thou good and faithful servant."

 


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