Farewell, Mrs skeates

BY admin

Because Mrs Skeates has had such a long association with Riebeek, it is fitting that we dwell a little more than most farewells on her time at Riebeek.  In fact, we thought maybe we should spend a mere 60 seconds on each of her Riebeek years, but then we realised that the speech would need to be 9 minutes for her school years and 38 minutes for her teaching years here, and that would mean it would take too long and still not do justice to Mrs Skeates’ unique contribution to Riebeek.
You see, Mrs Skeates is very special because she cares so very deeply for those around here and so it is quite strange to turn the spotlight on her when she is so used to focusing on the well being of others.
Mrs Skeates as a young girl knew she wanted to be a teacher as she would line her dolls up or the children of the farm labourers in her community for class time and read the Bible to them. Except at that stage Mrs Skeates could not yet read, and so she had to improvise and use her memory  She matriculated in 1977 with Mrs Lesley Bright Young, also a Riebeek teacher for some time, and Mrs Terry van Vuuren Hattingh, mother of our Miss Hattingh.  She obtained a first grade graduation from the Port Elizabeth Teachers College and earned a distinction in teaching practice.  In 1981, she rejoined her Riebeek Family.
And for 38 years she has shared her warmth, comfort, love and inspiration with her colleagues and the girls in her care.  Often the first teacher the girls would meet on their scary first day, Mrs Skeates made everyone feel safe and special. 
We can let you in on a little secret.  Mrs Skeates has always enjoyed a good celebration of life.  So in the 1980s and 1990s in her younger days, and even into the 21st century because Mrs Skeates has stayed young at heart for a long time, Mrs Skeates and some of the staff would enjoy some very sociable times.  Mrs Stear and her husband, Mrs Gail Macarthur who became Mrs Taylor and moved to VP and later Miss Johnson, to name but a few, tell of many fun adventures and lots of nonsense talk and fun.  Yes, Grade 4s, Mrs Skeates also talked to talk a lot in her time just like you probably like to do. 
Mrs Skeates has a particular interest in the misunderstood, the confused, the different, the ones who most needed her love.  She is known, when listening to senior school teachers discussing the well being of a high school child to be able to recall the child’s history and shed light on the best way to help the learner.  She can remember stories told to her decades later and uses those stories for good purposes.  It is this love of the needy, the underdog that led her to nurturing children who struggled academically by encouraging them  in the art sphere. So, at Arts and Crafts extra mural sessions, everyone felt like a Picaso or a Oscar winner. Mrs Skeates firmly believes that children who do not colour between the lines are artistic too because we all express ourselves differently.  Mrs Skeates is the epitome of random acts of kindness.  Mrs Gerber recalls when her son Daniel had an obsession with animals and there was a game ranger course during a holiday that she thought was very expensive.  Mrs Skeates insisted on paying for him.   When Mrs Gerber needed to pack party packs and organise a party at a children’s home for Daniel’s Life Skills project, Mrs Skeates insisted on making a contribution.  Those are only two examples and we know there are many, many more.  Whenever a staff member adopts a fur baby, Mrs Skeates buys pet toys and food for the new addition to the family as a baby shower. 
Mrs Skeates has faced challenges with grace and dignity.  She overcome hardships through prayer and reflection.  When her soul mate, Spike, passed away at the end of 2017; we marvelled at her dignity and strength and her story of Spike’s parrot who continued to call out hello in exactly the same way Spike did.
Mrs Skeates and Mrs Gerber were on leave in 2007 when the strangest thing happened. They discovered that there is a world out there independent of school bells and paperwork and the stress of teaching and returned from leave at the same time, sat observing how tired everyone looked and promptly slipped back into the rat race of it.  But, every now and again, we would reflect on the human race that is separate to the rat race and remind ourselves that this world of school is not all of the world, and that a bell should not dictate a day. Mrs Skeates, we are a bit jealous that retirement will give you more time than us for coffee breaks and smelling the roses and doing enjoyable things rather than have to do things.
Mrs Skeates is a perfectionist and undertakes everything meticulously and purposefully with no short cuts.  Mrs Skeates does not just mark work, Mrs Skeates applies the most rigid rules of respect for the pile of work in front of her and each project or script or worksheet or book is a treasure in her hands.  There has to be the neatest ticks, the neatest handwriting and a sticker or some words of encouragement to do justice to the efforts of the learner.  Lately, though teaching has left less time for teachers to do what we all wish we could do more of, and that is feed into the uniqueness of each child in our care.  Mrs Skeates found a way to still tap into the lives of her little humans by giving each one a turn to take a fluffy toy home and to write in the fluffy toy’s diary what he did over the weekend. That way she was still tapping into the lives of those in her care. 
Mrs Skeates’ faith is very important to her and she has the knack of serendipity in that just the correct Bible verse comes to her when she needs it to console or advice someone. 
Mrs Skeates says that Riebeek has taught her that laughter is the best medicine “the children laugh a lot and often!” and that people have different personalities and we should get a long with and forgive each other because that is what God requires of us. There isn’t a member of staff of learner who is short for kind words to say about Mrs Skeates. Her sincerity of spirit, humility, patience and sensitivity have touched many lives:  Those she taught and whose daughters she now teaches and those she works with. Mrs Mukamuri said “She is a great teacher. She is passionate, patient and committed in all that she does. Whenever I had a dilemma, she would calm me by saying, “Sister, you need to be calm, it will pass”. I thank God I met her, and I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to know her.”   And, we will remember her passion for animals and for fundraising for animals, with a whopping R40 000 collected this year alone. 
Mrs Skeates says that Riebeek is a family “We celebrate together, we mourn together. we face challenges together and we get through them. Together.” and she wants her family to always care for each other and remember that each and every person is unique and special. She also wants the grades 4s to remember that “We lead out of the class one by one not two by two like the animals on Noah’s Ark”.
Mrs Skeates you will be sorely missed. You have influenced and inspired legions of young women to become who they are meant to be; you have taught them more than the curriculum dictated by the department. you have taught them to value and love everyone and everything around.  May God continue to hold you in the palm of His hand. 

 October 20, 2019
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