On Sunday 4 March, we welcomed friends, family and students of beloved former teacher Thelma Spicer to the Bluestone Building to remember Thelma and celebrate her work supporting deaf children. Thelma’s sister and “number one fan” Olive Thurlby and dear friend Peter Riseley contacted us to arrange this special memorial event in honour of Thelma, who passed away last year aged 101.
It was wonderful to have such a large turn-out to remember Thelma, with the FJ Rose auditorium packed out with almost 100 guests. DCA’s General Manager Development and Fundraising Noel Henderson explained the impact she has had on DCA as an organisation: “Thelma worked tirelessly for our organisation between 1934 and 1958, and I feel privileged to work for the same organisation that owes so much to the work she did. Thelma had an enormous impact on shaping our organisation, education and the lives of deaf and hard of hearing young people.”
Former students of Thelma’s also shared their experiences of their beloved teacher. Bruce Missen, who was the 1000th student of the school when he arrived in 1939 and has many fond memories of Thelma’s teaching, shared: “I thank her for all the happy memories of her. She was wonderful and a much loved teacher to deaf children for many years.”
Mac Adam, who went on to become a Teacher of the Deaf himself and has been a vital part of the Deaf sector, explained how Thelma had supported not only himself, but his children too: “She was an amazing person who would be the only very successful signing speech therapist I have ever known. When we had deaf children of our own, they started attending Princess Elizabeth Junior School. We caught up with Thelma as Principal of PEJS and it all came full circle. Thank you Thelma for your insight and support from us all.”
Peter Riseley, who helped organise the event and attended Princess Elizabeth Kindergarten from 1970-1972 toward the end of Thelma’s tenure, shared her history in a speech prepared by himself and Olive for Thelma’s 100th birthday in 2016: “Thelma applied for the teacher’s position at 17 and a half in 1934. Mr Burchett, the headmaster, interviewed her and was very impressed. She got the job. Thelma started her trademark school for under 4 year olds, myself included, after finding that parents and children were frustrated with their speech delays as in the state of Victoria, children needed to be 5 or older to come to school as a first year student. In 1950, the Board approved that she become the first Directress of Princess Elizabeth Kindergarten for the Deaf in Elgar Rd, Burwood, which was the first of its kind for 3-6 year olds in Australia.”
A toast was proposed to Thelma by her sister Olive. Joanne, a former student of Thelma’s, then presented Olive with a beautiful bunch of flowers in memory of the time the students had presented Thelma with flowers when she returned from visiting a Deaf school overseas. Past students and friends of Thelma then had the opportunity to mingle at the Bluestone and celebrate the life and achievements of their beloved teacher. Please see the photos from the event below.
A special thank you to Joanne and Ryan Hilder for their wonderful catering of the event.