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NEWS > In Memoriam > Hilary Beale, 1940 - 2024

Hilary Beale, 1940 - 2024

We were so sorry to hear of the passing of Hilary in February aged 83. We remember her through two of the spoken tributes from the Committal Service - from David Vestergaard and Nigel Hosken.
25 Apr 2024
In Memoriam
Bob and Hilary, May 2023, near Ruthin, Wales
Bob and Hilary, May 2023, near Ruthin, Wales

A Tribute to Hilary by Reverend David Vestergaard

Much of what I will share, especially about Hilary’s early life, was in fact written by Hilary and read by her at a celebration of her sister Dorothy’s life just three months ago in Birkenhead. I know some of you attended that event too. Hilary was happy for these words to be shared today as they help bring an understanding to Hilary’s background and the shaping of her values, character and abilities.

Hilary Frances Beale (nee Slow) was born on 2nd June 1940 in Ealing, nearly two years after her sister Dorothy. In between, on 1st September 1939, the second world war was declared and the first part of family history is a bit of a jigsaw to be fitted together. Hilary’s father Ernest (known as Clive), came from sea faring stock; he went to Portsmouth Dockyard School and his father was Chief Armourer on clippers going to the Far East. Hilary’s mother, Mary, was from coal mining stock and from the Methodist community of teachers; she was educated by her father and at a Sheffield girls' school. After taking very different paths, Mary and Clive eventually met at the National Physical Laboratory in Slough where Mary had the post of Chief Mathematician and Clive was an Electrical Engineer. Both of them worked for Robert Watson-Watt, who one of the main researchers in the field of Radar.

Prior to his daughters’ birth, Clive had to spend a lot of time away from home reviewing Radar installations around the country. He was rarely at home, which at the time was Felixstowe - near the Radar base at Bawdsey.

After war was declared, the family moved from house to house all over the country, and ended up in Malvern, which is where RADAR research was rapidly rehoused in 1942. Hilary was two when she and her family at last got there, along with her grandmother from Grindleford. Hilary’s mother Mary landed in a strange house with a two and four year old, an elderly mother who was very ill, no disposable nappies and rationed food, included whale meat.

They were still in this house after the war. Hilary had strong memories of the big winter of 1947 when they built igloos in the streets, and going to the butcher across the road to collect rations. The family then moved to Worcester for schools. Hilary and Dorothy joined the Malvern Opera and Ballet Club, and they could go to Worcester County Cricket Ground for free after school. They also travelled across the Channel to continental Europe. Hilary’s parents wished to give their children as a full an education as they could, and they collected a range from unusual and joyful memories. In particular they visited Germany and Austria. In the early 1950s, many people did not want to have much to do with Germany, and Mary did not wish this to be the case for her children, having spent years studying there in the late 1920s.

At Worcester Girls Grammar School, Hilary studied science A levels, which was quite a challenge. The subjects were not so popular for girls, and the teaching was, to put it mildly, not the best. While she was gifted in arts subjects as well, and dance in particular, Hilary’s technical abilities were also well recognised. She was awarded a place in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, London, and was the first woman to complete a degree at Imperial in that subject. She managed this while helping also to care for her mother, who suffered from severe arthritis. From there, she went on to Cambridge to take the Certificate of Education, and met Bob, who, amongst other things was a fabulous dancer, which was important to Hilary! He also helped her to pass the ‘History of Education’ paper, which for some reason was necessary at the time, and which Hilary found difficult because the ability to recall facts and dates was not her strongest suit.

Hilary went on to a career in school teaching at Apsley, Millfield, and Pate’s Grammar School, Cheltenham, of which more shortly, as well of course, marrying Bob and bringing up Andy and Will. Once she eventually retired, she continued to serve the community just as actively but on a voluntary basis, including at the Sue Ryder Home in Cheltenham, the Citizens Advice in Stroud and the Cheltenham Tree Group. In addition to her family and friends, serving the community and supporting individuals was always important to Hilary.

Many here will have stories of how Hilary helped, cared for, or had fun with them. An amazingly positive and action-oriented person with incredible resilience and perseverance, she was the great improviser who would find a way round or through a problem. She always had people in mind, a project on the go, and adventures to look forward to. During the Covid pandemic, she and Bob made the decision to move to Wirral to be close to family. Getting involved with new groups and activities (choir, birds, gardening and so on) has made the last three years for them so full. They found everyone to be incredibly welcoming, and the community provides amazing support for Bob and the family now.

Ultimately the end for Hilary happened quickly and as a shock to many people. But in those last weeks especially, Hilary and her family had a strong sense that the timing was as it should be, and God was there in the way things have worked out. She had run the race until the end, sorted and handed over everything that she could, and was able to say ‘enough now’.

A Tribute to Hilary by Nigel Hosken

I first met Hilary when I joined the staff at Pate’s Grammar School in 1976. She was, as we would all expect, very helpful and supportive towards me as I found my feet in those difficult early years.

She had started a year earlier to teach Maths across the whole age range in what was at the time, an all boys school with a smattering of girls in the Sixth Form and, apart from her, an all male teaching staff. A formidable task further complicated by Bob’s presence as Deputy Head.

It was, of course, a different time, nearly half a century ago. A time of O levels and CSEs, a time of Rubik’s Cube competitions at the school fete, a time of Archery Club at lunchtimes. This provided an opportunity for her to show her willingness to defend the school in all circumstances. A group from a neighbouring school had a gripe with some of our pupils and decided to mount an invasion one lunchtime. They crested the mound and swept down across the First XV rugby pitch only to be confronted by Hilary and her willing supporters waving bows and arrows at them. The invaders wisely turned tail and fled. Hilary seemed to view this as a perfectly normal state of affairs.

The two Grammar schools merged in 1986 to form a fully co-educational school and Hilary was delighted to seize the opportunity this provided to get some of the girls into the workshops to work on Design and Engineering tasks, a topic always close to her heart. She also helped with some of the early steps in the introduction of computing, especially in Lower School.

Through all this time she had been dealing with a busy workload away from school, caring for her elderly relatives as well as her two delightful sons, and keeping Bob under control both at home and in school. The latter was always important, working with Bob had lots of pleasures but he did need some restraining on occasions. A memorable event was a full school assembly in which Bob was promoting the work of the Blood Donor Service and seeking to recruit some pupils to sign up - a worthy aim. Unfortunately one of the more squeamish students fainted at the back of the hall, Bob was undeterred and ploughed on as confusion spread and several more needed to be supported by their neighbours. This was only brought to a halt when Hilary strode onto the stage to announce that 'That was quite enough, thank you!'.

The selection of her as Head of Middle School (a largely pastoral role) in 1990 was no surprise; Hilary had always been good at spotting and supporting in an undemonstrative way, those pupils whose needs were often overlooked by other staff, as well as those who needed firm handling.

She continued to be a fully active and innovative member of the Maths Department, helping to forge some of the early links with the MEI scheme for GCSE and A levels which the school followed for some thirty years. She also helped in various aspects of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme, both locally and on expedition trips to Wales and The Lake District.

The curtain came down on her teaching career in 2000, a career for which many students and colleagues had reason to thank her and remember her by.

She had an active retirement, being involved with Citizens Advice in Stroud, travelling with Bob, supporting her grandchildren, playing with recorder groups and planting several hundred trees around Cheltenham with the Cheltenham Tree Group.

I look back with very happy memories on the times we spent together in the van at Caernarvon, always very relaxing and great to be with old friends who understood and had many shared experiences. Even well after her retirement I had to be fully prepared for many questions from her about recent developments at the school, especially in the CDT area.

It is a hackneyed line but we will not see her like again, but we can reflect on Hilary’s positive and optimistic impact on all our lives.


The Committal Service took place on Wednesday 28th February 2024, at Landican Crematorium, South Chapel.

Processional music: The Lark Ascending

Hymns: Jerusalem, Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer

Choir: Blackbird

Tributes: Reverend David Vestergaard; Nigel Hosken; Dave Kingscott; Emily Clark

Recessional music: City of Stars

The service was followed by a Thanksgiving Service at St Andrew's Church, Bebington.

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