Former St Angela’s Ursuline pupils gather to celebrate ‘popular’ teacher’s birthday
- Credit: Lisa Pettifer
How many of your teachers would you remember 60 years on? How many would you still be in touch with?
Such was the impact that Theresa Bennett had on her first class at St Angela’s Ursuline School that she recently celebrated her birthday with a group of her former pupils.
The 81-year-old, affectionately known as Terry the teacher, taught PE at the St George’s Road, Forest Gate school for more than 35 years.
Now living in Woodland Grove care home in Loughton after a stroke, she is regularly visited by one of her former pupils, Barbara Griffiths.
“I was in the first class that Terry taught,” she said. “We eleven-year -olds didn’t realise she was only 10 years older than we were.
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“She was popular not because we all loved PE (which we didn’t!) but because she was young, and she cared.”
Barbara and the rest of the class, who Terry taught in 1958, organised a reunion in 1996 to celebrate their 50th birthdays.
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She added: “I invited Terry and a number of other staff members to the reunion at my house and I can still see her sitting in the kitchen with a glass of wine permanently in her hand, talking to all the ‘girls’ in turn.”
The class went on to invite Terry to future reunions and she became part of the group – so much so that her former pupils were involved in planning her 80th birthday party.
But in spring last year they received some unexpected news.
“We heard from a close friend of Terry’s that she’d had a stroke,” said Barbara.
“Although we were shocked that she’d lost her speech, she still had a wonderful sense of humour and we celebrated with her on the hospital ward.”
Terry, who never married, had a wide circle of friends and remained active, swimming daily and playing tennis regularly well into her 70s.
She recently celebrated her birthday at Woodland Grove surrounded by her former pupils, some of whom travel from New Zealand, Australia and France to spend time with her.
“We can still laugh with her, even though she can only respond with one phrase, ‘I tried’,” Barbara said.
“Well, we have tried for her; we are the children she never had, thousands of them from St Angela’s School.”