Farewell to Gill Simpson
Tuesday, November 29
We received the following from Ruth Crabtree after the magazine deadline had passed.
Gill and I very nearly did not meet. As I sifted my way through a plethora of job applications for the Head of English post in my first term as Deputy head, across my desk came a handwritten covering letter, with sloping and messy handwriting - so difficult to read that I lost the will to live after the 5th line and promptly chucked Gill in the bin! I thought to myself, who in this day and age still handwrites covering letters? Luckily Jonathan Taylor, who knew her, resurrected her from the waste basket. I deigned to read her application to the end: Head of English from Chetams, Head of English at Bedales, Masters in Literature from Liverpool and her first degree in English Literature from Clare College Cambridge. Gill was invited to interview and I remember that as we discussed all the candidates, Jonathan read out a quotation from one of Gill’s references – a line from Great Expectations which completely summed Gill up then and still does today. I’ve changed the pronouns from he to she.
“She was always so zealous and honourable in fulfilling her compact with me, that she made me zealous and honourable in fulfilling mine with her”.
I shudder now to think what we would have all lost personally and professionally if Gill’s application had stayed in the bin because of my dislike of dyspraxic, cack handed penmanship!
Gill is a borne teacher, her passion for her subject has never dwindled in the 36 years that she has been teaching. She has inspired in thousands of students over the years a love of language, literature and acting and her love affair with Shakespeare manifests itself at every opportunity in and outside the classroom. If Shakespeare came back in human form, Gill would fawn over him like Poldark or the Duke in Bridgerton and we would be shouting “get a room”. She is a huge advocate for keeping Shakespeare on the curriculum and has never shied away from introducing challenging texts and making them accessible to countless generations of students without dumbing down the content. She is a consummate professional, amazingly conscientious in the preparation and marking of work, in the creation of resources for the department and in her very detailed reports. She is an intellectual powerhouse. Her subject knowledge is legendary- impressive beyond belief - and combined with her love of literature, her wit, her charm and her kindness, she is hugely loved, admired and respected by all of her students and colleagues.
She is a truly class act in every way – well nearly - as long as technology plays no part! Most of you think that Gill is mild mannered but oh my goodness does her dark soul and foul tongue come out when she is talking- or should I say - ranting about blended learning- an abomination which she frequently quotes as “having almost ruined her life”. Technological ineptness aside- that’s a whole other speech- Gill’s legacy will be long lived and far-reaching.
Whether it be helping students with their coursework, giving extra tutorials, offering revision sessions or guiding tutees in their UCAS applications and personal statements, Gill has always given so much of her time, expertise and care to all her students. I remember when Ed Pulleyn took up English in Yr 13, Gill gave him one-to-one lessons for free and taught him the whole of the AS syllabus on a Saturday afternoon – such is her dedication.
And there is no better example of her care than a letter to Gill from one of her ex students- Henry Calvert who wrote:
“To the most amazing woman in the world.
Thank you so much for everything you have done for me over the past 4 years. Without you I don’t think I would have applied to Drama school. You nurtured something I hold so close to my heart. Your constant kind words and support every morning pushed me to grow and pursue my passion for the performing arts. You are such an incredibly lovely person”.
To quote Great expectations,
“It is not possible to know how far the influence of any amiable honest-hearted person flies out into the world; but it is very possible to know how it has touched one's self in going by”.
For almost all of the years that Gill has been at Bootham, she was head of the English faculty. It is fair to say that her leadership style was not authoritative, and she had quite a few strong characters to manage. She didn’t always look forward to chairing the meetings but there are many different ways to skin a cat. Gill created a very cohesive department which thrived under her gentle leadership. Her colleagues hold her in deep affection. She created an atmosphere of kindness, trust and collaboration and, as a result, the department was dynamic, creative and successful with some of the best results in the school over a number of years and many enrichment events such as ghost tours, gothic evenings, trips to the theatre, trips to Dublin and Gatsby themed evenings to name but a few.
For every birthday or special occasion, Gill could be relied upon to bake cakes, florentines, snowballs and Chris crunch- a tray bake named after her beloved brother. I always felt very grateful to be an honorary member of the English department and this is thanks to Gill who created such a lovely, close knit and caring department.
Gill is a very talented Director and she has derived great joy from putting on a number of plays over the years . She is brilliant at casting exactly the right students for each role and drawing out amazing performances from her cast. The Importance of Being Earnest, The Glass Menagerie and All My Sons were of exceptionally high quality with some very funny, moving and mesmerising performances.A stand out for me was Rob Davidson’s monologue at the end of the Glass Menagerie which made me sob. Her success is all to do with her students desire to do their very best for Gill, trusting in her guidance and advice and her talented direction.
When talking to Gill, you may have noticed that she has an unusually high brow and sophisticated vocabulary which has become a bit of a running joke between us about how she uses such big words that she is likely to scare off the average suitor so we have compiled over the years a list of words which are banned on a first date. Every time she says words like disingenuous, mellifluous, loquacious, parsimonious, unconscionable, perspicacious and tautological, I say to her “that’s banned” or “nope, you cant say that on a date!”. The trouble is she is so erudite and eloquent that she has now been reduced to a handful of words: yes, no, and cake.
For someone with such a way with language, her inability to remember any acronym or short phrase is quite extraordinary. She was in charge of the NGRT tests for 7 years and still does not know what it stands for and when Chris introduced silent morning meeting for parents on a Saturday (reflect 30) she kept referring to it as Club 18-30! She does not understand even the most basic IT terms – reboot was a word she learnt in her 50s and bluetooth is a concept that she cannot grasp and probably thinks is some dental mishap.
Gill has been a key member of the lunchtime quiz group. She is the brain of Britain and really enjoys shouting out the answer before even Sally the quizmaster has actually finished reading out the question. To say this is annoying for the rest of is an understatement and one day, when Sally was away, I chaired the quiz and I banned Gill from speaking; she could only communicate in mime. The question was “ What was the title of Anne Bronte’s debut novel?”. No one knew the answer. Gill was bursting to say it but as she was mute, she attempted to do a “sounds like”. I still have flashbacks to her bending over, derriere in the air, pointing to her bum hole and “no Gill, Anne Bronte’s novel is not called Anus grey!”.You should be banned from charades although it was one of the funniest things I have ever seen.
The only two things that Gill has been ungracious about in her Bootham experience is Saturday school which like me she hates with a passion and when Will Lewis decided to ruin her life by giving her Monday as a half day. I have never known her to go on about something so much. I was contemplating paying Will a fortune to make sure that the following year Gill did not have Monday as her half day as I would have cheerfully strangled her if she had gone on about it anymore!
I think it is fair to say that Gill is slightly accident prone. I remember being in Cornwall at Easter receiving a text message which said, “I’ve hurt my leg slipping on anti cat pee polythene”. Poor Gill walked around on her bad leg for two days before she was taken to the hospital - evidence of her stalwart nature- and her leg was in a cast for weeks. One of my favourite memories was taking her to the fracture clinic in my mini, illegally parking in the ambulance bay outside the A + E entrance, running in to get her a wheel chair, shoving her in it, pushing her up a grass verge out of the way while I tore off in the car to park in the multi storey. I ran back to collect her from on top of the grassy verge and wheeled her into A + E where I banged her broken leg several times against the wall until I got the hang of driving a wheel chair. What do you get if you cross two dyspraxics and a broken leg? The answer is mayhem!
Her recent shoulder injury was very serious indeed and she was both very poorly and incapacitated for many a month. I do think Gill that it was a bit much to fling yourself violently and bodily against a concrete pavement at a run just to avoid Saturday school and blended learning. The irony is that Gill fell over because she wasn’t looking at the ground but up at some scaffolding above her head as she was worried that something was going to fall down and hit her!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Gill for her constant love, support and friendship over the last nine years. Before Gill took up post, she was showing her friend Andy around Bootham and I bumped into her on photographic lane, and then something happened which has never happened to me before or since. When trying to introduce me, her new boss, to her friend Andy, she forgot my name! I thought this was hilarious but Gill is still mortified to this day. It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts. However I do remember the first time we went out socially together after a very stressful day dealing with a very difficult parent and we had such a laugh and I knew I had found a kindred spirit. To quote Great expectations again:
“That was a memorable day to me, for it made great changes in me. But it is the same with any life. Imagine one selected day struck out of it, and think how different its course would have been. Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation of the first link on one memorable day”.
It has been a friendship filled with hilarity, dyspraxia, a series of very depressing films, countless salmon and broccoli dinners (I hate broccolli), rock hard potatoes (like bullets), incidents on Strensall common involving straying onto a grenade testing site, getting lost in car parks and accidently holding up the Tour de Yorksire in the fiat, a black boob (don’t ask), copious amounts of gin and champagne, cake, nagging (mostly on my part), procrastination (mostly on Gill’s part), gossip, trips to the musicals, episodes of pointless, tears, rants, constipation, heart break, lovely meals out, cocktails at Lucias, watching the Slipper and the Rose, Poldark and Bridgerton, and shouting at mini google.
It is hard to sum up 10 years of friendship but I shall quote Joe Gargery, as he signs off his letter to Pip.
“P.S. Ever the best of friends”
Gill’s time at Bootham has been sadly punctuated by severe loss with the death of her beloved brother Chris in Senegal, her stepmother Sheila and her lovely father William. To quote Hamlet: “When sorrows come, they come not single spies. But in battalions!”. Gill has endured much grief and heartache but I know that she has found real comfort and solace in the love, friendship and support of the Bootham community which is very dear to her. Despite her bereavements, she has never lost her kind, sweet nature, never angry or bitter but resilient, retaining her lust for life and her wicked sense of humour even among the dark moments. But now, as time has passed, she can look forward to a very bright future full of opportunities yet to be discovered, friends to be made, talents yet to be untapped and nurtured. To quote, Great Expectations again:
“The mists had all solemnly risen now, and the world lay spread before her”.
We could not be happier that you have made this brave and life affirming decision to retire early after 9 years at Bootham and 36 years of teaching in total. You are hanging up your metaphorical football boots - and we know with Gill that they would only every be metaphorical! She has such exciting plans: a trip to Italy, a writing course in September, taking up the mandolin, brushing up her violon, joining the choir committee and baking up a storm for the Steiner school fetes. I’m trying to persuade her to come and work for me as the interpretive dance teacher but I live in hope that I can finally persuade her to go on bake off; she would become a national treasure I have no doubt, but in the meantime we say goodbye and good look to our Bootham treasure.
Gill, go well. You will be sorely missed. Bootham will be a poorer place without you on so many levels but we know we will continue to see you and look forward to what you do next. If anyone deserves to be happy, it is you.