Ely High School 1905-1972 - Miss BR Baird

Letter in the Ely Standard, 14 December 1972

Miss B R Baird

The following tribute to Miss B. R. Baird has been received from colleagues of the former Ely High School:

There occurred at her home in Bury St. Edmunds on November 30th the death of Miss B. R. Baird, BA, a member of the staff of Ely High School from 1915, when she was appointed as French mistress, until her retirement in 1946.

She served the school for 31 years, during the last seventeen of which she acted as Second Mistress.

Miss Baird gave most devoted and generous service to the school and its interests. She was always deeply concerned in the girls and their welfare, and this gift caused her to be loved by all. Her treatment of girls was marked by justice and quiet understanding, and she was always most anxious to be fair to everyone.

Above everything she valued hard work, and had a ready sympathy for those who did their best although not particularly gifted with brains. Her organising abilities, which the extreme overcrowding of latter years taxed to the utmost, were considerable.

Miss Baird was untiring, as well, in her teaching and never flagged even after many years of service. She was a friend to every girl with whom she came in contact, and had an indefinable influence for good on every one of her pupils.

She is still remembered with affection by all whom she taught and in whom she inculcated lasting values. The school was the centre of her life and her whole devotion was given to it. What the school gained from her stalwart service can never be truly known.

We who knew and loved her are grateful that such a wonderful person ever came into our lives. This tribute is made on behalf of the school of which we have been members, knowing well that we write for all those who knew Miss Baird.

(Headmistress 1966-72)
(Headmistress 1936-66)
(Headmistress 1929-36)
(Hon. Secretary, Ely High School Association)

from the July 1947 Ely High School magazine

Miss Baird's Retirement

This year brought us another sadness when we parted with Miss Baird at the end of the Summer Term. Miss Baird first joined the Staff in 1915 and so had served the School for thirty-one years; during the last seventeen years she acted as second mistress.

During all the time she was with us here Miss Baird gave most devoted and generous service to the School and its interests. She was always deeply concerned in the girls and their welfare; their joys or their troubles, small or great, were hers also this gift of hers of entering into their lives and feelings caused her to be loved by all. Her treatment of the, girls was marked by justice and quiet understanding, and she was always most anxious to be fair to everyone.

Above everything Miss Baird valued hard work, especially the effort required from those who were not particularly clever, to master the French language; indeed, she had a ready sympathy for those who did their upmost, although not particularly gifted with brains. Many girls owe more than can be calculated to her interest and genuine love for them.

For myself I cannot speak too highly of her organising abilities, abilities which our school premises and the extreme overcrowding of latter years taxed to the utmost, but which were always equal to whatever the occasion demanded. Miss Baird was indefatigable as well in her teaching, and never flagged even after the many years during which she had taught the same beginnings to so many generations of girls.

The good-bye presents which Miss Baird received from the Governors, the Staff: and pupils past and present showed the esteem in which she was held, and the gratitude she had so justly earned. We are glad that she is still within easy visiting distance of School and that living as she does in her delightful home at Bury St, Edmunds, she can still keep in touch with us, and attend our various school functions.

Miss Baird has given a precious gift to the School she loved and served so well; she has endowed prizes to be called after her, and to be awarded to girls who have gained a high standard in French in the public examinations, and as well, and how characteristic this is, to girls who have made their best efforts, although they may not have gained great success. These prizes were awarded for the first time last year, and as each year comes round with fresh awards, the name will remind us of one for whom we feel love and great gratitude.


Tributes to Miss Baird.

When Miss Baird first came to us in 1915 I was in the Senior School, and remember so well the stimulating pleasure of her French lessons. She first taught many of us the thrill of words; in lighter vein entertained us with humorous, good-natured digs at our thick-headedness, lamenting the very wooden nature of our “wooden O” and later in Sixth form days, led us with her in subtle analysis of the characters of our French set books, or discussed with us ideas in the world of abstract values just beginning to interest us.

By this time we realised her utter sincerity and appreciated that she never talked down to us, though all the time giving out to us from her own thought and experience, wisdom and good counsel.

In 1934 when I joined the Staff, Miss Baird, now Senior Mistress, was the one link with the School I had left. Since then, privileged to work with her in the close contact of the Staff-room, I have seen and known her from a different angle.

I realised the fairness, which as girls we had recognised and taken for granted, to spring from a deep-rooted inflexible love of justice, in the exercise of which she would take endless ungrudging trouble, so as not only to be fair, but to be fair in a way that could be recognised and understood by the people concerned.

I came to see also the understanding sympathy, so carefully hidden under curt words and gruff voice, which, with her fairness, was the secret of her influence. When praise was honestly earned she gave it generously; when blame was deserved no one in the Staff-room could inspire such salutary awe, and effect such genuine penitence.

In her relations with the Staff the same qualities appeared with a natural difference. We all knew and valued the fairness which distributed so evenly the inevitable extra jobs; the generosity which quietly did so many of them before asking us at all; the quick observation and sympathy which recognised the most “willing horses” the selflessness which stood aside from activities carrying the most obvious kudos and apparently preferred the duller, less spectacular, but most necessary jobs.

Though we may not always have reached them, her standards set the tone in the Staff-room. All of us found in her a rock of strength and security; a friend always ready to counsel in difficulty; never too busy to consider any reasonable request; one whose help was bounded only by our need of it, and who was withal so humble and free from self-seeking that any evidence of the loyal affection she inspired moved her to surprise - and gratitude.

The BR Baird prizes she has so generously established preserve her name in its annals so long as the School exists: we who know and love her, and the School she has so generously served, will hold that name all our lives in our hearts, associated with her ideals of justice, faithful devotion to duty and most ungrudging service, and can best express the gratitude we feel by translating those ideals into practice in our own circle, wherever it be.


Miss Baird worked at Ely High School every day, every minute of every day she was there in what I think was to her, her ministry of teaching. Because her work was a ministry, a vocation with her, she was a sound teacher, an interesting teacher, a fine teacher, sound because she managed often against odds, to establish a firm groundwork of the French language in almost all her pupils; interesting because no pupil of hers really disliked her subject and all liked her way of teaching; fine because she imparted culture. Perhaps this last is most important of all.

Like every good teacher, she did not merely impart knowledge, certainly we all had to learn some French, willy-nilly, but all the time that she was leading us along the thorny path of French grammar, she was opening in that way, other gates, gates that gave you glimpses of the flowering meadows of literature, of music, of pictures, of strange countries, encouraging us to get thither if we could.

She wanted us to share her secret joys, the poetry of Shakespeare, the beauty of flowers, the wonder of the stars, the magic of tradition that lingers about old buildings, These and others she indicated to us - I don't quite know how but that is so. She did it often, shyly and quite suddenly, but never conventionally.

There was a fascination, a curious charm in her side-trackings. As French mistress she naturally led us to our first early appreciation of Vigny, Musset, Balzac, Flaubert, but she also persuaded in subtle manner, a number of us to a taste for Jane Austen, to an acquaintance with the names and positions of the chief'constellations, to the learning and possessing of some the jewels of English as well as French poetry.

Of course we might have discovered them later for ourselves but how grateful one is to have a fascinating guide in the years when the way needs to be pointed and when the mind is open to the sheer delight of first recognitions of beauty in literature and nature.

I don't think Miss Baird found us Fenland children dull and boring to teach. Anyway she never showed it. She never made anyone feel hopeless or stupid. I even think she had more affection for the ones who found French rather difficult. She always won their confidence and affection. If we worked, really worked, she was satisfied and a word of praise from her was eminently satisfying. I remember her quoting more than once “L'homme qui travaille n’est jamais ridicule.”

I think she is now enjoying to the full some her secret treasures which she always wanted us to find too, of reading, listening to music, gardening and soon I hope the delight of travel of which she always spoke with great anticipation, will be hers. We are grateful to her for pointing us the way to them.


At the end of the Summer Term Miss Baird retired. This was a great loss to the School, at which she had devoted so many years in great service.

Miss Baird will be remembered by us all, for her great powers of organisation. Not only during the hours of school did she work, but even during the evenings, weekends, arranging factors contributing to the smooth running of the School. Her energy was immense and she always seemed to place the School before herself. Such great service will indeed he missed.

So many of us will remember very vividly how much Miss Baird encouraged those girls who tried hard, not these girls who found it ease to reach the top of the form, but those of us, which found the subject difficult, but despite this endeavoured to do our best in it. Miss Baird always had a word of encouragement for these girls and indeed we all greatly appreciated it.

A friend, that was what Miss Baird was to all of us, on all occasions. Any little troubles, that came to her ears, she always took steps to put right, and her great interest in each individual pupil made us regard her as a friend. Those of us, which had the good fortune and honour to have lessons with her, will never forget the little human touches she put into them, which made them so interesting. Patience and understanding were always evident in all that she undertook. Miss Baird's sense of fairness too is one of her great qualities, which we will retain in our thoughts of her.

In Miss Baird's retirement, we lose not only a great teacher and helper, but we lose above all a friend. We unite in wishing her health and happiness in her well earned retirement.


[There were also several unsigned expressions of thanks and good wishes from Old Girls]

from an earlier as yet
undated School Photo

from an earlier as yet
undated School Photo

from the 1930 School Photo

from the 1938 School Photo

[Research suggests that Miss Bertha Rose Baird was born in Bury St Edmunds in 1885 to James and Marie Baird.]

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