Smith, Beryl

Beryl Simes Smith [1] was Headmistress of Cheltenham Girls High School between 1971 and 1976. Gifted, kind and generous, warm and loving to family and friends, and yet also uncompromisingly firm.

Beryl was born into a loving Christian family at Auburn, the Sydney suburb, on 17 May 1918. Her father was the Reverend V T Smith a Methodist Minister and her mother Edith (nee Simes). She was the youngest of a family of three. As the daughter of a Methodist minister she had a peripatetic childhood and education before completing her Leaving Certificate in 1935 at Fort Street Girls High School.

While she initially wished to study geology or pharmacy at Sydney University she was advised against this – as both led to careers thought to be unsuitable at the time for women. Instead she graduated with second class honours in chemistry. After obtaining her Diploma in Education in 1940 she commenced her career as a teacher, teaching at Narrandera, Albury, Armidale and Maitland before becoming Science Mistress at North Sydney Girls. She was then Deputy Principal at Blacktown Girls for just on two decades before appointment as Principal at Cheltenham – her last appointment before retirement. While at Blacktown she had been offered an appointment to her old school, Fort Street, but turned it down – wishing to continue teaching girls in western Sydney.

Outside of work, her life centred for many years on her church and her family and her friends. She became an accredited local preacher in 1951. She remained interested in photography, bushwalking, travel and her garden.

At Cheltenham Girls High she encouraged the growth of art. She introduced the tradition of holding the annual speech/presentation day (at its related Pink Train journey) at the Opera House. But beyond this, she will be remembered for her formality: seeking to make the girls, as she said to them, like Priscilla and Prunella – two Royal Doulton figurines to be found in a large china cabinet that she installed in the front foyer and filled with Lalique as well as Royal Doulton figurines. Related to this was her relentless pursuit of high standards of decorum amongst the girls at the school. She was notorious for driving slowly down Beecroft Road, causing traffic to bank behind her, as she checked that the girls walking to school were suitably attired in their hats and gloves. One story, repeated in the eulogy given by her nephew at her funeral, was of the time when she made an announcement over the school’s public address system that as she had driven past Epping railway station that morning she had seen a girl in school uniform kissing a boy from Epping Boys High School. She required that girl to go immediately to her office. When she checked outside her office, so the story was told, over forty girls were there. A contemporary (but anonymous) source verified this story although didn’t remember 39 girls in the queue!  

For individual students who needed special assistance, Miss Smith was supportive of their efforts and of great assistance and kindness to their families.

In 1968 she wrote in a school magazine: “if you want something intensely enough, whether it be a bicycle or a car, tertiary education or an overseas scholarship, you will get it … if you are prepared to back ambition with effort … Remember that what you achieve by your own efforts is doubly your own, because it has the bonuses of confidence and strength and experience, sometimes more valuable than the achievement itself.”

After living at Westleigh for over 45 years she spent her last years in a nursing home in Canberra near family. She never married as “there seemed to be no time.” Her funeral at Epping Uniting Church concluded with the hymn “O Lord my God how great thou art.”

[1] Compiled from the eulogy delivered by her nephews John and Rob Smart together with obituaries in Cheltenham Old Girls Association Newsletter (2015) Vol 1 No 1; Northern District Times 7 January 1915; Sydney Morning Herald 1 June 2015 and a source who wishes to remain anonymous.