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NEWS > School News > Mrs Simmons Remembered

Mrs Simmons Remembered

From her passion for Sumo wrestling to her appearance on Mastermind, Greek and Latin teacher Mrs Simmons, who taught at LEH in the 1970s, is among the school's most colourful characters.

Last month we featured an appeal from author Jayne Muir, who is writing a play about the amazing life of Doreen Simmons (click here to read the story), asking for alumnae who remember the teacher to share their memories of her.

She obviously made a big impact on pupils – from speaking Latin with a Brummie twang, to fighting off over-amorous Italian youths and leading the singing at the annual OAP Christmas party – here are some of their comments.

Pamela Stanworth (LEH 1971-1978, nee Joplin): My intake was the year that the Cambridge Latin Project arrived at LEH, and Mrs Simmons was my Latin teacher for about the first two years.

She started us off with an almost conversational approach to learning Latin : Salve Discipulae (Hello students), she would greet us, and Salvete Magister (Greetings teacher) was our response.

There seemed initially to be only one class set of booklets, and our group was lucky enough to get them first. So we moved swiftly through the stories of Caecillius the Mercator and his family, not missing Cerberus the dog and Grumio the grumpy cook, before the booklets were passed on to the next class etc.

Lessons were always lively and we seemed to learn the grammar and principles in passing, rather than by rote as our older school friends complained about.

I remember that Mrs Simmons was a keen singer. One year at the party for elderly neighbours, she was a leading singer in the staff group who sang traditional Scottish and Gaelic songs while the Country Dancers skipped through their paces.

Of course, we all learnt Latin with a Midlands accent, and it was some time later that I realised this was not necessarily the way it was spoken by the Romans.

Julia Anderson (LEH 1969-1976, nee Hatherall): Mrs Simmons taught me Ancient Greek for a couple of terms at Lady Eleanor Holles School in Hampton in 1973-4. Already studying Latin, French and Russian ‘O’ Level, I found the language a bit much and gave it up but I remember her lessons being great fun; She was a maverick at our very genteel girls school. I remember singing a song about crocodiles in Greek and getting very excited when Mrs Simmons appeared on Mastermind.

Jane Greening (LEH 1964-1971, nee Woodland): Mrs Simmons taught me Greek from about 1970 to 1972. In the following 45 years I forgot all the Greek I knew. However I took up the language again four and a half years ago, mainly teaching myself, attending five weekend courses in Intermediate Greek at Madingley College, and all through the pandemic I have every day been doing translations from Greek authors - all inspired by Mrs Simmons' teaching! 

Mrs Simmons was with a small group who went on the Classics Cruise on the ship Nevasa in February 1971. This cruise started from Venice, and our little group of girls in Lady Eleanor Holles School uniforms was the object of over-lively interest from groups of Venetian youths: they literally chased us. I remember us being backed up against a wall  and Mrs Simmons bravely and vociferously defending us! She sent them packing.

My other memory of her is from the School Cruise was at Delphi. She stood in the Amphitheatre declaiming from a Classical Greek play in ringing tones.

Ann Clayden: My friend and I were both pupils of Doreen's at LEH, in her last few years there before she left for Japan.  Doreen was a rigorous and demanding teacher of Latin, which stood us in good stead, as both of us did classics at A-level (after she'd left) and indeed I went on to read 'Greats' at Oxford.  We held her in awe rather than affection at the time, I think it's fair to say, but looking back I appreciate what a very special person she was, and how lucky we were to have been taught by her.

Doreen claimed to have absolutely no head for numbers at all, and her recurrent comment was that she could either remember the date of the founding of Rome or her parents' telephone number, but not both at the same time.  I also seem to recall that she had a habit of pushing her glasses back up her nose with her knuckle - but other details elude me, I'm afraid, at this distance in time!

Amanda Taylor  (LEH 1967-1975, nee Medcraft): I barely knew Mrs Simmons because my Latin learning was so appalling so I stayed well clear of her. I was in the bottom group, which was taught by a Mrs White, who was a diminutive woman with a white bun.

I can confess to taking all the chalk pieces in the room home the night before the lesson, coating the ends in wax and getting in early to put them back in the awaiting class. Then poor Mrs White couldn't understand why none of the chalk she picked up would write on the blackboard. Well, that was one less class I had to endure....

Mrs Simmons, I believe, told everyone she could converse in Latin given the chance which I always thought odd and slightly comical because I did know it was a dead language (as far as I was concerned anyway and should have been buried as well)!

I remember the Mastermind episode. Quite odd to see one of your teachers on the TV. Happy days.

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