Sheila Hyman was the Junior School Head when we were students at St John’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pietermaritzburg. After completing my first year at St John’s I was shocked to hear that the Headmistress had decided to spend Christmas at The Cavern with her almost 95 year old mother. I was completely blown away when she participated in the “shirt & hat” party. She enjoyed a brandy in the evening and even smuggled the occasional cigarette! And so began a special association with our family.
After completing school, Miss Hyman kept up with us “Carte” girls and we were invited to lunch in her flat in Alexandra Road. She loved to entertain and cook but her very best was having young friends. After Hilton and I married and moved to The Cavern, Sheila began literacy classes for our staff, teaching them to read and write and her commitment was admirable.
This special friendship spanned decades and we were so privileged to be considered her family. She loved The Cavern, she adored our staff and we will certainly miss our dear Gogo Sheila. Her ashes are buried at the bowling green and we have a bench on its way to mark this space. We gathered in the St John’s Chapel recently to remember Sheila and we just share this tribute with many guests who may have met her on one of their visits.
A Tribute by Megan Bedingham (Carte), past pupil and close friend
It is always lovely coming into the St John’s Chapel. It’s a familiar space and I find that quite comforting. It also seemed to be the best place to gather to celebrate the life of Sheila Hyman. Sheila dedicated about 40 years of service to this school and is fondly remembered by so many of us.
It is also in this Chapel as young teens that we sang the blessing…
“the blessing I shall ask is that God will grant me,
To be brave and strong and true,
And to fill the world with love my whole life through”
And, it is only as we grow a bit older and more mature that we really reflect on these words. Over the past few weeks, with these words in mind, I have thought so much about Sheila.
Sheila was brave. She taught forever but remained up-to-date, never wanting to be considered a fossil. She moved swiftly to the top position as Junior School Principal and she acted as Head of St John’s for a time. She bravely took on children and their parents but she was always fiercely loyal and championed for those that struggled to stand up for themselves.
Sheila was strong. Strong in character, resolute in her faith and terribly stubborn at times. My first memory of her as Miss Hyman is of her walking with determination between the Junior School and the Theatre. She moved with a mission and dedicated her efforts to growing us girls. She taught us History and we so enjoyed engaging with her in our classroom at the top of the middle block. She was passionate about the topics and drew us in.
Sheila also dedicated much of her time and love in caring for her mother. She possibly put much on hold because of her responsibility to others. Essentially her life was one of service.
In the years following her retirement, she continued to teach at the bottom end of Victoria Road, and no amount of caution would stop her from making her contribution to all the wonderful people that joined her adult literacy classes. The cold, the dark, even a couple of nasty happenings did not unnerve her and never stopped her.
Sheila could also dig her heels in and getting her to move into a retirement space got quite tense when she refused to budge. But, she did come round and enjoyed 10 years in her “Mouse House” at Marian Villa before moving to Frail Care.
Sheila was true. She was dignified and sort to restore dignity in others. For many years Sheila travelled up to the Berg to help our staff to learn to read and write. She would come for more than a week at a time and she rallied others to get her commitments in Pietermaritzburg filled. I remember her sheer joy when our wonderful nanny, Maria, learnt to write her name. Maria was almost 60 but Sheila’s great mentoring and careful encouragement meant so much to so many.
And dear ‘Sheil’, she filled the world with love. Sheila’s love for teaching flowed through her and out to all those she encountered. She had a genuine love for those that were a bit mischievous and from messages I have received I know she was considerate and kind when hardships were encountered.
And, I suppose Sheila’s final gift to us all was the opportunity to give something back. Without Sheila really knowing the depth of all the support, I know she appreciated feeling secure and safe at Marian Villa. The kindness of the broader community and the willingness to help reflects the depth of the genuine love that many had for her. And, I remain so grateful.
I remain grateful to all the Bridge friends, the Bennetts who drove her to Church, the Johnsons who had her for dinner and holidays, Sue Volans that was always so kind, her wonderful school friends and her special friend, Margaret Ann, who recently passed away. There are many I don’t know and many more who gave. Dear Gerti looked after Sheila and her mum for many years. And more recently, on the ground at Marian Villa, I am thankful to each Sister and Carer who kept her comfortable as she slowly became more and more frail.
Sheila became enveloped into our family and was a surrogate “Gogo”. She loved her visits to the Berg and the chaos of gathering with our extended family and her final resting spot is in our garden overlooking the bowling green.
I will miss my quick pop-ins to Woollies to grab chocolate or flowers and I will miss seeing her. Those big bright eyes, and the exclamation always, “Meegie, how lovely to see you.”
At the grand age of 86 she has departed. She was brave. She was strong. She was true and she filled the world with love. May she rest peacefully.