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NEWS > Alumnae News > Stella Martin – A Much-Loved Classics Teacher

Stella Martin – A Much-Loved Classics Teacher

Popular former LEH teacher Stella Martin passed away last month aged 93 and is remembered fondly by all who knew her. Her former pupil Louisa Greenacre (Hartley), Class of 1989, pays tribute.

Stella taught Classics at LEH for some 20 years, until her retirement in 1991. I was fortunate to have her as one of my Latin A level teachers at the end of the 80s, and then to know her later in life when she was a good neighbour and friend to my mother. The two of them became walking companions during lockdown, and I enjoyed seeing them out and about together in Kew.  Stella remained as sparkly and chatty as ever and would always ask for news of my LEH contemporaries.

In my day the Classics Department comprised of Stella, Ruth Iredale, and Lesley Hazel. Together they were a fabulous team, and this was reflected in the popularity of their subjects, with 14 girls in our year taking Latin A level and a couple doing Greek as well. Stella’s lessons were rather jolly. She was always ready for a good chat, and her enthusiasm for the literature was impossible to resist. I remember her making quite sure that we’d all understood exactly what unlucky Dido and Aeneas got up to in that cave, and we had many lively discussions about Catullus and his friends and lovers. Perfect material for an LEH Sixth Form, explored with romance and laughter while still drilling into us the technical requirements of proper translation.

As Trish White remembers, Stella was always a friendly, smiling presence in the school and was very popular with both staff and pupils. She was an excellent teacher and Sixth Form tutor, who gave her time freely and empathised with pupils.  I’m sure she is fondly remembered by so many of us.  Her colleagues in the Classics Department have kindly shared their memories of her, which reflect her warmth, humour and generosity.

Stella enjoyed her long retirement and retained her love of languages. She took French and Italian classes and had recently started on German.

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Ruth Iredale writes:-

Stella was my wonderful colleague in the Classics Department for almost twenty years, until 1991.  She started at LEH a little before I did, working on a part-time basis. At that time part-time staff were paid on a termly basis rather than monthly. Stella began to wonder whether the privilege of working at LEH should be a reward in itself, or whether perhaps she would receive a bouquet at the end of term. This issue was eventually resolved, fortunately, as she always worked only three or three and a half days a week, arriving in her bright orange Mini with its SLM personal number plate, which had come with the car, and a shopping basket full of marking and textbooks.

Her strength as a teacher was based on her genuine love of Latin; she enjoyed the logic and precision of the language as well as its literature. She could cover the syllabus efficiently while keeping classes engaged. A younger pupil once said to me “Oh we loved having Mrs Martin. She told us things like how the Romans blew their noses”. (On the edge of their togas, apparently!) What she enjoyed most was teaching literature, especially Latin poetry, finding the right word for a translation, teasing out meaning, and always ready for the students to give her new insights.

Stella’s work as a Sixth Form tutor occupied a good deal of her time. She saw her role as one of giving support to individuals and could sometimes mediate successfully between students and subject staff; such was her tact that this never seemed to offend anyone. She would spend hours helping to sort out unusual courses and investigating different possibilities. Nothing was too much trouble.

I loved working with Stella. She was a brilliant presence, with sparkling, entertaining conversation, and some riveting stories; my favourite involved a school trip to Italy, early in her teaching career, when the staff woke up as the train pulled into Rome, and found that it had divided during the night, leaving half the party at large in some unknown Italian destination. Under the sparkle was a deep interest in people, a strong sense of right and wrong, and great warmth and kindness. She has been a dear friend for nearly fifty years, and I shall miss her very much.

Lesley Hazel writes:-

Stella was a wonderful teacher, colleague, and friend. I haven’t seen her for some time but the last time I popped in she was her usual hearty and cheerful self, thinking of others and coping with her own situation stoically and with humour. 

When I started at LEH I was welcomed and made to feel as though I had been in the department for ages. She, like Ruth and I, was happy to share material, advice and stories; funny ones as well as thought provoking tales.

It was Stella who some 20 years ago passed on my husband John’s name to Kew Herbarium where he has since volunteered, happily teaching Latin to Botanists. He has always been grateful to Stella for that recommendation. 

I shall always remember her advice when Benedict was teething; “Use homeopathic teething granules”, as she had suggested to her daughter when her wisdom teeth were emerging!  They worked brilliantly.

Her other advice was to get a dishwasher as this was a store cupboard and magic box; ‘You put things in dirty and, hey presto! they come out clean!’ 
“We have no room for one.”
‘You have a sitting room, don’t you?
We got one….

We still have in our garden the irises that Stella gave us on one of the times we visited her and John and they make me recall the jolly times we had in our small department all those years ago. 

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