Muriel signs off from Saintfield school

Muriel signs off from Saintfield school

20 February 2019

A SAINTFIELD school secretary took her final roll call last week after almost 40 years in the post. 

Mrs Muriel Hilman, the longest serving member of staff at Academy Primary School, retired last Friday.

To mark the occasion a special farewell party was held in Mrs Hilman’s honour at which she was presented gifts from parents, children and members of the board of governors. The centrepiece of the celebrations was a specially baked cake.

Mrs Hilman has seen huge changes over the past four decades, including progressing from a manual typewriter and maintaing a hand written register to a state-of-the art computer system with touch-type keyboards and scanners.

However, one thing that remains the same is the children, who are as much an inspiration today as they were when she first walked into the school.

Mrs Hilman began working as secretary in 1981 when Mr James McIlhinney was the principal. At the time there were just 218 pupils, but today that number has risen substantially to 459. 

Mrs Hilman, who has a grown-up son and daughter who both attended the school in the 1980s, said: “Since the early days I have worked for three principals — Mr McIlhinney, Mr George Smyth and our current principal, Mr Stephen Moore. At the start I only worked three hours each day but that has more than doubled in recent years.

“My husband, Raymond, who was chairman of the PTA, and I presented the school with a silver cup in the late 1980s which became known as the Hilman Cup. We present it to the child that has earned the highest overall achievement each year. We are almost running out of space now to engrave names,” she laughed. 

Mrs Hilman, who has become a very familiar face over the years, recalled some of the highlights during her time at Academy Primary.

She said: “In 1998 I had the opportunity to accompany two other long-serving staff members to attend a royal garden party at Hilsborough Castle. I got to speak and shake hands with Prince Charles and it was certainly a very memorable occasion for me.

“Of course I will never forget the surprise dinner that the staff had for me at Rockmount Golf Club a few weeks ago. There were 65 people who attended that evening and they made a big cake for me with lots of candles on it. They wrote and performed a song for me and I was very taken aback by it all.”

It is obvious that Mrs Hilman has formed quite a strong bond with everyone at the school — children and staff alike.

She said: “I will miss the children very much indeed. Each child is an inspiration to me, especially the two special needs children. They wave at me as they go home and I find them so sweet and friendly. They are treated the same as all the other children. They inspire me each day to just get up and get on with it.” 

She continued: “I have received terrific support from Mr Moore since he first arrived at the school 26 years ago. My time here has been a very happy one and for that I’m very thankful. I have formed some great friendships.”

Mrs Hilman has plenty to occupy her in her retirement. She confesses she is more of a ‘tidy-upper’ around the garden but can’t wait to become more involved with planting and creative borders. She also loves to walk and travel. 

Mrs Hilman has two young grandchildren, James (14) and Aimee (12), and she says she will be able to spend more time with them, as well as becoming more involved with the Saintfield Women’s Institute. It sounds like she will be busier in retirement than ever.  

Mr Moore described Mrs Hilman as an institution. “We would certainly wish Mrs Hilman a very happy retirement with many years of good health to enjoy it,” he said.

“She has given us many years of service which can only be described as remarkable. We will miss her very much indeed.”