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News > Articles > Mrs Vas - Part of the Magic

Mrs Vas - Part of the Magic

Remembering 'Mrs Vas', part of the magic of Saint Ronan's.
14 Nov 2022
Written by Clare O'Connell
Mrs Vas with WBH and the Vassar-Smith family
Mrs Vas with WBH and the Vassar-Smith family

Mrs Vas (Richie’s great-grandmother) was an essential part of the ‘magic’ at Saint Ronan’s between 1923 and 1948. She was born in India, where she met and married Major Charles Vassar-Smith and had two children, one of whom very sadly died of fever at the age of five. Fearing for their other child, Richard (later the school’s fourth Headmaster), the couple came to England and enrolled him at Saint Ronan’s. When her husband died two years later, Mrs Vas joined the staff as Lady Matron, presiding over the medical and domestic staff in the last years of SSH’s headship at Worthing. At Bicton, under WB Harris, she ran the wartime household and moved with the school to Tongswood in 1945.

In the Bicton Book, the Bicton boys’ memories of the wartime years, Mrs Vas is recalled with universal love and affection. She provided a much-needed maternal dimension in a bachelor-dominated school and was a reassuring and motherly presence, particularly for new boys, far away from home and family for the first time in their lives. Anyone could go to her sitting room at break times and she would either read aloud by the coal fire or let the boys play games while she sat and talked or knitted. She allowed them to listen to Winston Churchill’s broadcasts and the BBC News, keeping them up to date with what was happening on the various battlefronts around the world. Together with the Nurse, she encouraged the boys to knit balaclavas and socks to send to the troops for warmth in the winter. Arthur Ransome stories were her favourite choice for the younger boys and she read from dormitory to dormitory every evening. She had a special affinity with birds and kept hens, which she looked after herself.

She died in 1970, at the age of 88, after a brief illness. Her obituary in the Ronian says: ‘She was busy in the school on the day before she became ill. She was rushed to hospital and died 48 hours later in her sleep. During the 25 years from 1923 to 1948 that she worked at Saint Ronan’s, her instant sympathy for, and tremendous interest in other people made her greatly loved by the boys and their parents and her devoted staff.’

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