Elmarie Retief with Husband Hugh and son Hugo

Over 26 years of service amounting to: 324 months. 1408 weeks. 236520 hours. 14,191,200 minutes….

Over 26 years of service amounting to: 324 months. 1408 weeks. 236520 hours. 14,191,200 minutes. How does one measure a person’s contribution? On a numerical level it is easy to calculate the numbers, however, it becomes infinitely more difficult when you have to try and put down a person’s true value and service in words.

[Photo: Elmarie with her husband Hugh and son Hugo]

Today we celebrate Mrs Elmarie Retief, the College Head’s PA, as part of our “Getting to Know our KC Family” Series.

Yesterday she celebrated her birthday and as a school community we were able to come together and celebrate this formidable woman, who unfortunately will be retiring at the end of this year. Ms Muriel Robb was the Headmaster’s Secretary from 1954 – 1982 (the longest record, with 28 years to her name). Elmarie comes a close second to Ms Robb. She will be leaving us three months short of 27 years at Kingswood College.

What a remarkable achievement.

Elmarie is a Kingswood stalwart. She has stood the test of time, and has, over the last almost three decades, seen Heads come and go. She has been present at both the Centenary Celebrations in 1994 and the 125th Jubilee Celebration in 2019 and has seen many notable changes to the Kingswood landscape over the course of her years at Kingswood College. She is gracious, and she is kind, but above all she is caring. Her office is always open for those passing by, to pop in, to talk, to just be. Elmarie will leave an indelible mark when she leaves us at the end of the year to enjoy her very well-deserved retirement. Her shoes will be difficult ones to fill. Although she is leaving us at the end of this year, Elmarie will always be part of the Kingswood family and Kingswood will forever be part of her.

It is hard to put into words the legacy which she leaves behind, so we decided to ask some of the people who have crossed her path over the years to share their experiences with “El”, as she is fondly called:

“Elmarie and I share a passion for flowers. We spent many happy hours together arranging flowers for school functions. I have put together a special bouquet of flowers and each one is symbolic of Elmarie: Sunflower: Loyalty White Chrysanthemum: Wonderful Friend Pink Carnation: Gratitude Violet: Faithfulness Hydrangea: Love for her familyAlstroemeria: SupportLastly, a Daisy, which symbolizes new beginnings Elmarie, we all wish you well for the next exciting chapter in your life. Kingswood will surely be a duller place without this beautiful bouquet” – Dee Hobson (co-worker)

“Every now and again you come across an individual who is not limited by the parameters of a job description but rather uses it as a spring board to grow personally and professionally and in so doing serves at the very highest level and with distinction. I suspect, Elmarie outgrew her job description soon after she received it and she kept on reinventing and rewriting it herself! Elmarie chose her path, highly efficient, a consummate professional, deeply trustworthy and dependable. Her leadership style was quiet but strong. She led from the front or from the back, whatever the occasion required.She willingly tidied up or smoothed the rough edges left by others, ensuring the collective project was always perfect. This she did with grace, taking people along the journey with her. Her maturity in leadership stood out for me. She never needed to prove a point, just made it right. I served as the College Council Chair for nine years, a relatively long term when you balance the demands of life. I never hid the fact that I was able to sustain it because of Elmarie Retief She carried a huge load and her attention to detail was extraordinary. Her presence will be felt at Kingswood long after she retires” – Di Hornby (previous Chairman of Kingswood Council)

“El and I have been work colleagues for 20 years, but to be honest, I regard her more as a friend. We have spent many hours solving the world’s problems; have had many laughs and now as we are members of the esteemed 60’s club, we can tell each other the same stories over and over again without realizing it! We both share a common love for nature and the outdoors – something that has created a unique bond between us.El is the consummate professional in her workplace – she leaves big shoes to fill. Her love for Kingswood and all that it stands for has no doubt been the driving force behind her career. She sometimes comes across as the iron lady of admin but behind this façade is a kind and sensitive soul. El, we will miss you. You take with you a fountain of Kingswood knowledge. So don’t go too far away – there will be many phone calls and WhatsApps coming your way. Enjoy your retirement El – I am sure many hours will now be spent in game parks and reserves. You and Hugh will no doubt take your birding skills to another level but sadly for us this rare and beautiful Kingswood bird is about to fly off to find her new perch…” – Carey Hobson (Colleague)

“I have had the privilege of working with El for 2 years and she is a superwoman. Nothing is too much for her and she is always willing to go the extra mile. A woman of integrity, with a strong moral compass and institutional knowledge that could keep the Titanic afloat. But her compassion and willingness to listen, makes her the most phenomenal woman! Happy Birthday El – you are an exemplary watcher of the Beacon” – Colleen Vassiliou (College Head)

“To me, Elmarie was never just a colleague, she was so much more than that. She was and is a very good friend of mine that has stood by me over the years, through the good times and sometime through the bad times. She is always willing to listen and is able to give good advice. She is one of the most professional individuals that I have ever had the privilege of meeting and working alongside. She is also a very talented and creative individual and I am always in awe of her flower arrangements and sewing skills. El – jy is ‘n absolute ster, en ek is baie lief vir jou!” – Wilna Pittaway (Retired colleague)

“A more committed, competent, “can do”, polite, “service above self” person will be difficult to find! El has been a significant contributor across all spheres of Kingswood College and in many respects has served as a confidante, advisor and motivator to many of us. Her institutional knowledge, service to the school and Council and willingness to help wherever she is needed have been immensely beneficial to me and indeed the whole school. Enjoy your well-deserved retirement!” – Stephen Gardner (Kingswood College Business Manager)

“Elmarie is an avid gardener who loves indigenous plants and her garden has become extremely water wise. For her, gardening is not only a passion, but her stress release. She is first and foremost a family person and family comes first in every instance. She is certainly very inventive and over the years has upcycled many articles to be used again. She is the keeper of many secrets but always remains loyal and trustworthy. A great friend!” – Cathy Vorster (Colleague)

One would expect it to be easy to articulate one’s thoughts when reflecting on Elmarie’s contribution to the greater good of Kingswood. As Elmarie will appreciate, after 11 years of chasing after me, and tidying up the mayhem I left in my wake; this is now version 2:25 of my thought process. It is so difficult to put into words just how much Elmarie, in her quiet and incredibly professional manner, influenced the workings of the College Head’s office. I suppose one should, and appropriately so, start with the “little black book”. Whether or not this actually exists, remains a mystery. Whether it physically exists or is part of that incredible filing cabinet that is Elmarie’s mind, who knows. What is reality, nonetheless, is that it is “real” and, with it, a multitude of anecdotes and stories, all of which would make for compelling reading, should it ever be published. Having observed, endured and survived six College Heads, tens of members of staff, a multitude of Council members, hundreds of parents and thousands of adolescents, one can only imagine the stories that could be told.

More seriously, and without wanting to sound patronizing, Kingswood has, in Elmarie, had an incredible servant who has, through her understanding of and wise approach to life in the school, influenced all of us. I know there will be, not too far from now, a time for farewells but, I do know without reservation, that Elmarie has carved for herself an incredible legacy. Her contribution to this school has been enormous and a mere thank you seems to undervalue her time at Kingswood. In my own departure, at the end of 2019, I recognised that my own role in the school was always underpinned by Elmarie’s wisdom, counsel and common sense. No tribute can do justice to her time at Kingswood…” – Jon Trafford (College Head 2008 – 2018)

We could fill a book of people recording their special relationships and encounters with El, and this is a true testament to the person she is. She is without a doubt, a “watcher of the beacon, whose light must never die”.


Messages from Facebook friends not to forget…