18 May 2020
Our first featured Alumna is former Head Girl from 1961, Patricia Erskine-Hill who was known as Patsy Pierson during her time with us from 1958-62. It’s been a pleasure to meet online and learn more about life at St. George’s some 60 years ago and what she’s been up to since.
Patsy and her family arrived in Europe from the States when she was 7 years old. She attended schools in Spain, Italy and France, before coming to St. George’s to study for 4 years at the age of 14 where she attained both O levels & A levels.
Miss Codrington was Headmistress at the time, and Patsy’s favourite teacher, Mme Quinche taught A Level French. Patsy recalls her being a very good teacher, truly inspirational and although strict, she really enjoyed her classes. Art classes were another highlight, with an excellent art teacher.
Most of the teachers were British and there were several international students, many Europeans and quite a lot coming from the then Persian Empire. Most students were boarders, and the older girls slept in the Chalet. Interestingly social conversation was split between English and French, one week of each. Uniform was worn until aged 16 and at that age, smoking was permitted.
During this era, there were several Finishing schools in the area, but St. George’s was considered to be an academic institution and there were certainly no classes in deportment!
Just like sports at St. George’s today, inter-school matches were held, mostly netball and tennis.
Patsy’s fondest memories of school life were French lessons with Mme Quinche and the highlight of the year was the school dance at the end of the summer term. Sometimes dances were held with students from Le Rosey, which was all boys, just as St. George’s was girls only.
Walks were often taken in the mountains, and in springtime, the students were encouraged to pick large bunches of narcissi flowers which were packaged and posted back home to the girls’ mothers. It’s interesting to note that now the narcissi are considered protected and picking them is forbidden.
In the winter term, skiing took place in different resorts each Thursday and Saturday, including Les Avants. Sadly, it’s no longer a ski resort, due to the level of the snowline having risen a great deal. Like today, the students were transported by coach.
Contact with home was obviously very different from current times with little technology back then. Patsy recalls a phone booth in the hall where parents could phone the school and the girls could have a private conversation.
All 16 year olds were allowed to visit Montreux on Saturdays. They could shop, have coffee and patisseries and generally feel very grown up. Chapel took place each evening and Patsy remembers the girls eyes were often wiped to check for mascara as the wearing of make-up was not allowed: it was said to be bad for one’s eyesight, which the girls did not believe, even then!
British comedy duo Flanders & Swann toured for several successive years and the pupils went to the theatre to see them perform each time.
Patsy mentioned that Zsa Zsa Gabor visited the school as her niece was studying at that time and another pupil was the niece of Hugh Gaitskell, former leader of the British labour party.
There was no graduation ceremony and many young ladies left after finishing O Levels aged 16. Only 3% of the British population went on to University, and the school, possibly less academic that it is now, reflected this. Patsy remembers that many chose to attend cookery schools, to go to secretarial colleges or to learn flower arranging.
After leaving St. George’s, Patsy studied in Ireland at Trinity College, Dublin where she gained a First class honours degree in Modern Languages (French, Italian & Russian).
Patsy has had a varied career and is still in employment now. She first worked in Advertising in London, but keen to use her languages, she became a courtroom interpreter, before setting up an independent travel business including organising incentive adventure holidays for top salespeople from large corporations. After selling that business, a change of husband took her to the States where she was a University lecturer at Baylor University in Texas teaching Medieval and Renaissance literature and Italian language. Interestingly earlier Myers-Briggs testing had indicated that Teaching could be a career, but it was later in life that she was led into that sector.
Upon returning to the UK, Patsy qualified as an Arts Society Lecturer and travelled within the UK and New Zealand lecturing on History & History of Art. Today she is a freelance lecturer for various cruise lines and she enjoys giving lectures to passengers relating to the historical background wherever the cruise itinerary is heading.
Patsy lives in Kent with her husband.
Our grateful thanks to Patsy for agreeing to be our featured Alum.
Please feel free to contact us if you would like to tell your story.
Your enquiry was sent successfully.
Something went wrong
Your enquiry was not sent successfully.
Please try again.
Too many attempts
Your enquiry was not sent as you tried sending too many times. Plesae try again later.