Alex of Yore: Kathy Sutton-A Gem of a Secretary

At 87, Kathy Sutton is as energetic and spritely as ever. With barely a pause, she will elaborate why Alex was such an excellent school and Cordingley such as superb boss and person. She concedes that she never had to endure the caning that he administered but that was a different era.

Kathy was born on Monday 3rd December 1934 in Sidwell, Port Elizabeth to an indigent family. If the family was in trying financial circumstances at her birth, her Scottish father’s death before Kathy’s third birthday, tipped the balance to penury. Without a job, her mother was compelled to obtain child welfare to raise her. Like today, the stipends for child support were minimal at best.

Perhaps it was her impoverished upbringing, when every penny was turned over a dozen times, that provided her with a zest for life and a positive mien. Nothing could suppress her joy of life. Even though they had nothing, she recalls life as being joyful and carefree. Kathy attended the Ethel Valentine School at No. 5 Sutton Road in Sidwell. During her youth, Kathy and her mother boarded at various one-bedroom establishments. This meant that Kathy slept with her mother during her whole youth until she got married. For secondary school, she attended the Technical College in Russel Road until she attained her Junior Certificate being Standard 8. Amongst the subjects which has served her well over her whole life is shorthand which she professes still to be proficient in.

Kathy Sutton with Bob Welsh and Winston Cordingley

Kathy’s first job after school was as a typist at Holland and Wylie, manufacturers of equipment for fruit farmers. Their offices were situated in Queen Street diagonally opposite the Chinese School. After approximately ten years, she left this job in 1964 and struggled to obtain employment until a position became vacant at Alex in July 1965.

As the school secretary, she was responsible for the admin of the school and most importantly she had to “mother” the various principals each with their own quirks. For instance, WACO insisted on being called the PRINCIPAL just like the school was never called ALEX but was referred to in full every time. After Cordingley, she served under Brian Heath, Jeff Ilsley and then Peter Manson, eventually retiring in December 1999.

Kathy Sutton with Brian Heather

Kathy recalled: “Louis de Lange was my Afrikaans teacher at Ethel Valentine School many years ago and then I met up with him again when I joined Alex in 1965.  I always held it against him that he caned me on the palms of my hands for spelling mistakes in Afrikaans (nogal). That really was cruel – but I forgave him a long time ago and we were good friends. He also made me a beautiful Dolly Varden (dressing table) while we were together at Alex and I am still using it and have fond memories of Louis”.

When pressed to divulge who were the “special people” at Alex, Kathy refuses to be drawn into that rabbit hole. Her stock answer is that they were all superb people but each in their own unique way. Different but special. This disjunction unrecognised. Unaware that the word special or even unique nowadays can have a negative connotation depending upon the situation, I did not tackle her on the use of these words in this context as I sense that her intentions are pure and non-judgemental. Just by the number of compliments that she bestows on WACO divulges her love of the man. When pressurised on details her default position is that he treated people admirably, – “beautifully” in her words – he was extremely precise in his use of language and he was iconic with the academic gown flowing behind him as he strode down the corridors attempting to trap some miscreant. In Kathy’s telling, WACO was the perfect boss.

Kathy Sutton at work

As her farewell gift from the school after so many years of dedicated service, Kathy and her husband were given a cash sum which they used to purchase an air ticket to England. Not one way, mind you. What an apt gesture!

In conclusion, in interviewing her one gains the sense that Mrs Sutton still resides in a sanguine world, casting aside trials and tribulations like a wet bird shaking off the unwanted moisture on its feathers.

There is no rancour or bitterness of a youth without possessions. Love and friendship were her joys.

That is how she overcame the vicissitudes of life so far and will continue to do so until her allocated days on earth are spent.



Thanks to Kathy Sutton.

Blogs on Alex

It was a pleasure chatting to her again.

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  1. What a wonderful and gracious lady Kathy Sutton is! Her smile and high heels are etched in my memory bank. Thank you Dean for all your hard work in putting this together. It is much appreciated.

  2. Another excellent blog Dean. Well done & such a great lady.
    We are so fortunate to know Kathy’s daughter Kay (class of ’72) who moved into our Estate in Knysna last year.


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