Tribute paid to a much-loved teacher

Tamra CarrGeraldton Guardian

She had a propensity to hoard memorabilia and she was almost like the unofficial historian of the school.

If you wanted to know something about the history of Geraldton Senior College, you could pretty much rely on Kath, says retired principal Gary Simmons.

Born in the Wheatbelt on July 2, 1942 the late Kathleen Joan Haythornthwaite is remembered by students, staff, family and close friends as a longstanding educator, administrator and helping hand.

Mr Simmons, a former principal and retired educator of 48 years, recalls the early 1980s with Ms Haythornthwaite at Central Midlands Senior High School in Moora, where she was principal mistress and he was head of social studies and geography.

In 1985, Ms Haythornthwaite left her role at Moora to join staff at Geraldton Senior College and, 19 years later, Mr Simmons followed suit.

In a role-reversal from their days in Moora, Mr Simmons became principal in 2004 and Ms Haythornthwaite continued to serve as deputy.

He said during her 31 years at the school, Ms Haythornthwaite was very much the conscience of the college.

“Everyone had a healthy respect for Kath,” he said.

“She was a kind person, she knew the names of all her students and their parents. If you can name the students, it sends a very significant message that this person cares.”

After temporarily retiring in 2006, Ms Haythornthwaite was re-hired by Mr Simmons as a community liaison officer, largely focused on helping Aboriginal students and families.

“At the time we had the largest Aboriginal population of any senior high school in the State,” Mr Simmons said.

“Our greatest concern was lack of attendance of Aboriginal students and the lack of continuity for their education. A lot of them would fall by the wayside.

“Kath would go and talk with parents and illustrate the good work their children were doing.

“She had extensive knowledge of Aboriginal kinship and family structures.

“Parents could identify with her as she had a deeper understanding and familiarity with Aboriginal culture.

“She was a trusted person in the community. Parents respected that she was knowledgeable and that she was telling good stories.”

City of Greater Geraldton Community and Aboriginal development officer and local elder Nola Gregory was full of praise for Ms Haythornthwaite.

“I had a lot to do with her. She taught a lot of kids in my family,” Ms Gregory said.

“Her whole contribution was just awesome. She had nothing but love in her heart for the Aboriginal community. She was very respectful. People were blown away by her, she knew students by name and worked with whole families.”

Ms Haythornthwaite is survived by sisters Grace and Alice Snooke, who remember her as a kind and positive person.

Grace recalled a happy childhood with her late sister, who she said loved birds, animals and wild flowers.

“As children we would walk for hours, searching for and picking orchids and wildflowers,” she said.

“Our home verandah became adorned with our flowers in jam or golden syrup tins filled with water.”

Alice remembered a quirky sense of humour that stayed with Ms Haythornthwaite until her final days.

“In her hospital bed, Kath could see visitors arrive,” she said.

“On this occasion she quickly put her arms by her side and closed her eyes and lay very still.

“When family entered her room she didn’t move.

“When asked ‘What are you doing Kath?’, she would reply, ‘Practising’ and we would say ‘Practising for what?’ and Kath would reply ‘I’m practising to be dead’.”

Ms Haythornthwaite died of acute myeloid leukaemia on December 19. A memorial was be held on February 10 at Geraldton Senior College.

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