Pat Vincent

21st May 2004 at 01:00
Pat Vincent is retiring as caretaker of Netley Abbey infant school near Southampton after 27 years.

It's her 65th birthday next week and she will carry on caretaking until the school finds the right replacement. "Pat is a hard act to follow," says headteacher Sonia Underhill, who nominated her for our flowers, champagne and chocolates, "and she's always said she won't let us down."

Whatever happens, her party is a week today and lots of people have reason to say thank you and good luck. The school serves three villages and Pat lives five minutes away by bicycle. If the alarm goes off in the middle of the night she's first on the scene and she treats the cleaning part of her job as if the school was her home. "We daren't stand still in case she polishes us!" says Ms Underhill.

Pat is a well-known figure in Netley Abbey and still belongs to the young wives group she joined years ago - which hasn't changed its name. She keeps fit and active by cycling, gardening and working incredibly hard. Every class at this 217-pupil school has a garden plot in the school grounds which Pat digs over and helps plant. She's often successful herself in the village's best-kept garden competition. Her skills extend to dressmaking - dozens of brides and bridesmaids have reason to be grateful - and she's a curtain maker to all.

Every Wednesday she does cooking with the children and they bake buns for every birthday boy or girl that week. Friday is the day for cakes in the staffroom. Ms Underhill says Pat's kindnesses often happen in private and that if she'd had to pay for her "pastoral care of adults" the school just couldn't afford the bill. "She's a great listener and always has something wise to offer. But she's also full of fun and we enjoy a laugh."

Is there an unsung hero in your school? Tell Sarah Bayliss, TESFriday editor, about him or her at the address below. Flowers kindly supplied by Marks amp; Spencer

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