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Obituary – Frank Simmonds (1939 – 10 December 2013)

| March 26, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Shelagh Bouwer

In 1973, when Frank Simmonds took up the position of headmaster of St Andrew’s School for Girls in Senderwood, Johannesburg, he already had an impressive portfolio of achievements behind him.

Born in 1939, he matriculated from Germiston Boys’ High School and obtained a BA Honours degree and a Transvaal Teachers’ Higher Diploma from the University of the Witwatersrand. His teaching career began at St John’s College in Houghton and, in 1961, he won the Witwatersrand Council of Education Scholarship to teach for a year at Eton College in the UK. During his time at Eton, the headmaster, Sir Robert Birley, remarked that this young geography teacher had the makings of a great headmaster. His words proved prophetic.

A steady hand at the helm
Simmonds took up his position at St Andrew’s as the school was experiencing a turbulent period in its history; plans to sell the school property and relocate to the northern suburbs had only recently been abandoned. Fortunately, with the inspired appointment of this young, energetic educator, the school embarked on a renaissance of growth, rejuvenation, innovation and expansion. With a progressive school board behind him and his popular deputy, Dorothy Ede, and with his faithful personal assistant, Heather Jayes, by his side, Simmonds steered the school with a steady hand through the years of political and social change, as apartheid gave way to a democratic South Africa.

Simmonds family a positive influence on campus
However, Simmonds’ appointment was not without controversy: he was the first male head of a girls’ school in South Africa and St Andrews’ first married head with a family. Cheetham House – previously staff quarters – became the head’s family home and the Simmonds family – Frank and Janet with their three-year-old daughter, Jane, and two-year-old twin daughters, Claire and Ann – duly took up residence.

Janet became a much-loved art teacher at the school and over the years their family circle was blessed with the addition of a son, Matthew, and another daughter, Lucy. The positive influence on all at St Andrew’s of Frank and Janet’s strong, loving and supportive marriage and happy home life cannot be overstated. During Simmonds’ tenure, the academic standards of the school were raised and consolidated and the curriculum was extended, particularly in the fields of cultural and life skills.

New buildings were added to the school campus and, in 1982, a commitment was made to the development of non-racial education by adopting an open, merit-based admissions policy, offering scholarships to underprivileged pupils. This initiative was expanded with the launch of the Outreach Foundation in 1990 (in 2001 renamed Ubambiswano). Its initial student sponsorship programme and bridging and outreach centres (incorporating the Daveyton Enrichment Programme) have since expanded exponentially.

Involvement with several important education initiatives
Not only did he accomplish remarkable achievements within the school, Simmonds was also a founder member of the Independent Examinations Board and served as chairman of its Examinations Committee. He also served for many years as chairman of the Headmasters’/Headmistresses’ Conference. Simmonds retired from his position as headmaster at the end of 1994 but continued as the school’s revered ‘Elder Statesman’ and, as a board member, was a constant source of advice, wit, wisdom and encouragement.

Never losing his passion for education, after his retirement he took up the position of ISASA’s deputy director under Mark Henning, and later Jane Hofmeyr, and was closely involved in establishing the Alexandra Education Committee.

Duty well and truly accomplished
In the 1994 St Andrean, the St Andrew’s School for Girls annual magazine, Allister Rogan gave this tribute in his chairman’s report: “You leave us with a school in top-notch condition and I mean that in every sense of the word – educationally, physically, financially and morally. You have never deviated from your principles and you leave St Andrew’s with an eloquent testament of service above self … When you hear the bells of St Andrew’s, that sound will no longer be a call to duty but a happy reminder of duty well and truly accomplished.”

Shelagh Bouwer is the archivist at St Andrew’s School for Girls.

Category: Autumn 2013, Obituary

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