Matron thanked for ‘sensational service’ over 50 years

Matron thanked for ‘sensational service’ over 50 years Gloria Thompson and Grant Lander

22 June 2021

Gloria Thompson has retired after half a century working at St Paul’s – the past 37 years as Matron of Williams House.

To acknowledge her remarkable service Gloria was gifted an Acorn, a special trophy usually only awarded to long-serving teaching staff.

Gloria first started at the school as a classroom cleaner in 1972 and moved on to be Matron in 1984. In that time, she has been a ‘mother’ figure to more than 550 boarding boys in Williams House, supporting students through their boarding experience.

As many people shared their memories at her April farewell, Gloria was variously described as a ‘picker upper’, a listener, a cheeky detective, and a nurse – all rolled into one. Her mending skills are legendary although Gloria insists, “it is just plain sewing – nothing fancy!”

As Matron, Gloria would oversee chores, supervise homework, take students to appointments, and keep a watchful eye on student wellbeing. She was known to be firm but fair, and consistent. She was neither a hot head, nor a pushover.

She has been an influential figure in the lives of countless boys. “Over the years I have never had any boys that I have run into arguments with, or who have disrespected me, I have to say. Most of them have been really, really, good.”

There have been relationships forged with parents, too. “It’s the parents who have the least self-control when they drop their children back to school!” Gloria laughs. “They are the ones who cry and get upset not the boys, but there have been some lovely parents over the years.”

Intuition with teenage boys is an instinct she has in abundance. “With some boys you can just feel things are not quite right, or there is something bothering them, or they are up to something.”

John Croall, Williams Housemaster in the early 2000s, says Gloria was a superb Matron. “Her commitment to the boys was tremendous and her willingness to come in at any time of the night made life easier on my arrival.”

In recent years it has been a split shift arrangement, starting at 7.30am for the morning pre-school routine; then returning at 3.30pm for the afternoon shift. A typical morning would involve, in her words: “running around checking that the duties have been done, doing some mending, putting away washing, checking the lockers, putting out dirty clothing, turning all the lights off, going through the house and ensuring everything is in good condition and that they have done their jobs and the kitchens are clean.” In the afternoon she was there to keep an eye on the boys while the housemasters were busy with sport and other commitments.

The job was handy to her home, just a couple of blocks away. Students used to love her turning up to work in ‘boy racer’ style new cars.

In more recent years she has taken students to various out-of-school appointments. “While sitting in the car together you are sharing your life story with them, and they are telling you theirs, so you really get to know them.”

More importance is placed on wellbeing of students these days, Gloria says. “It is very much improved, they have got plenty of support, with professionals on staff.”

There have been many memorable moments, including the time the whole of Williams House was infested with bed bugs. “It was pretty hilarious, we had to strip everything and put sheets in the freezer and clean up and spray the whole place. We have never had it since as they now fumigate the place regularly.”

She has worked with five Headmasters and seven Housemasters in her time at Williams House. “One in particular, was really military like. Then there was one who was quite casual, and the Housemaster who followed straight after, had to straighten the boys up again. But they have all had different styles.”

She mentioned one former Williams Housemaster, and current Deputy Headmaster, Craig Hardman, for the kindness he showed her during last year’s national lockdown, which she really appreciated. “He rang me every day to make sure I was ok and asked if I want anything like shopping done. That was just really lovely.”

Gloria’s farewell in April was attended by Housemasters and former Heads of House as well as Collegians and current parents and students. News of Gloria’s departure prompted a flood of messages on the school’s Facebook page, from former students and staff.

“Sensational service. You deserve a wonderful retirement in Oz,” wrote one.

“Our amazing Williams House Matron of 50 years! – A mother to some, a friend and confidant to others,” said another.

“Kia Orana (hello) and Kia Manuia (good luck) from a homesick Cook Islander, 1973-1976.”

Gloria has sold her Fairfield home, where she has lived for several decades, and is moving to Currum Downs in Melbourne to be closer to family in retirement. Gloria has advice for the incoming Matron – "have patience and learn how to sew!"

"I think I will miss it," says Gloria. St Paul’s will miss you too.

(Source: Monica Holt)