Yesterday, I went to the funeral of the headmistress of my senior school. Miss Margaret Evans was headmistress of Beal Grammar School for Girls, Ilford, Essex, while I was there from 1967 to 1974. I didn’t really know her well and it’s only been the last few years when we started emailing each other that I really knew anything about her. As a school girl, I kept well out of her way. She was strict but fair and I didn’t like or dislike her but I certainly respected her. Since we started emailing each other, I found that she was a volunteer at Kew Gardens and an avid swimmer. Today, I discovered that she holds many world records for swimming (I think it was 18 records in all) for over 64 year olds.
I wanted to go to her funeral to pay my respects. The one thing that I remember her saying to me was that the world was my oyster. I hadn’t heard the phrase before and had to ask my mum what she meant. But I’ve always remembered it. Bearing in mind that at the time I was at senior school, many people still assumed women wouldn’t have a career and would just idle their time until they got married, I don’t ever remember anyone at school suggesting this was normal. We were encouraged to take up science, sport and maths – subjects that it was often assumed boys excelled at and girls weren’t good at. We even had the opportunity to do computer programming. True, the computer in question was the size of a room and was situated in the town hall but at least Miss Evans gave us the opportunity.
I don’t remember anyone ever telling us that girls were as good as boys or that girls were better than boys. There was no comparison to boys at all, that I remember. We were individuals and the world was our oyster – our gender was completely unimportant.
She was a remarkable woman and I feel privileged to have known her.