Thursday, 4 October 2018

In memory of Mrs. Clingeleffer

Mr John Clingeleffer of Cabarita Beach, New South Wales, shares memories of his beloved mother Heather Clingeleffer nee Graham.  Many BBGSians from the 1950's will remember her as BBGS' first science teacher who was responsible for building our curriculum and laboratories; under the headship of Miss Mary Glasgow.  She met her husband Jack while serving in BBGS from 1948 - 1960 and continued her teaching career when she returned to Australia.  Mrs Clingeleffer passed away on 1 June 2018 at Ocean Grove, Victoria, Australia.  

Thank you, John, for your generosity in sharing the eulogy and photos.  

BBGSians who remember Mrs Clingeleffer, please share your memories in comments or email me directly at

Mrs Clingeleffer (on the left of guest of honour) at the opening of the BBGS Science Labs

"Good afternoon and thank you for coming to remember the life of Heather Elizabeth Agnes Clingeleffer.

Apart from knowing that she was born on the 17th of November 1921, not a lot is known about Heather's childhood.  We do know that she completed her leaving certificate at St. George Girls' High School in Sydney in 1938 with honours in Modern History and Biology.  She then went on to Sydney University where she studied maths and science.  After graduation, she took up teaching in various locations in New South Wales.

In 1948, Heather received the call from missionaries in Kuala Lumpur to go and teach in Malaysia.  She answered this call and left the safety and stability of life in Australia to take up a teaching position at Bukit Bintang Girls' School, known as BBGS, in Kuala Lumpur in, as it was then known, Malaya.  BBGS had been established in 1983 by Betty Langlands as a Brethren school initially to teach young girls to read.  Despite the school's longevity, Heather was to become their first science teacher.

This was not a safe time to travel to Malaysia.  Following the end of the Japanese Occupation in September 1945, the Malayan Communist Emergency started in June 1946 and continued for over a decade.  During the emergency, travel outside the capital could be fatal with regular attacks by bandits.  Getting away from the emergency to highland retreats was often undertaken but even walks in the surrounding jungle could result in unexpected encounters with the local fauna.  This was a far less controlled environment than it is today.

Heather enjoyed her time at BBGS and living in Malaysia.  While there, Heather met her future husband, Jack, and after their marriage she moved from the young women's boarding house into a home on Ampang Road complete with amahs, a gardener and driver.  But, with the push for independence from the British empire, Malaysia was becoming a less pleasant place for foreigners to live.

After independence in 1957, and also due to a decline in Jack's health, in 1961, we moved back to Sydney Australia.  We initially stayed with Heather's brother Boyce and his wife Lorna and soon after that, we rented a flat in Artarmon, where, as it was assumed at the time, Heather would simply stop being a teacher and become a housewife.  It soon became clear to us all that Heather's progression from life in her parent's house, to various catered boarding situations, to a home in Kuala Lumpur with servants, had left her singularly unprepared for domestic duties.

She applied for and got a job as a teacher at Abbotsleigh Girls' School where she worked happily for many years.  The students at Abbotsleigh were graded on perceived intelligence, from White at the bottom of the scale through to Red and Green to the top level of Blue.  Heather would frequently be given the White students because she didn't look down on them and treated them all equally.  Heather revelled in frequently getting to outperform the higher levels.  Many times when I returned home from school in the afternoon, there would be some of Heather's students at our house receiving extra tuition.

Mrs Clingeleffer with her family in Australia 

After Artarmon, Jack and Heather moved several times: Warrawee, Wahroonga abd hen in 1976 to what I think was Heather's favourite, Collaroy Plateau, where they lived very happily for 13 years.  After my sister Mary was taken ill in 1987, Jack and Heather moved to Broke in Hunter Valley to be of assistance.  They initially stayed in a caravan, then in a house Jack build at the rear of Mary's residence; then in a couple of houses in Singleton.  I am fairly certain that not all aspects of this nomadic existence excited Heather.  During this period, Jack and Heather also spent time as stand-in caretakers at Camp Kedron.

In 2001, with Mary's health much improved following a kidney transplant from her cousin Helen, and Mary's sons Duncan and Leon much more self sufficient, Jack and Heather moved to Ocean Grove, partly to spend more time with their fourth grandchild Katie.  It also meant Jack and I could play golf more frequently.

Sadly after this move Heather's decline started.  She had a stroke in 2001 from which she never fully recovered.  In January 2007, she lost of her husband of 58 years, Jack and in 2016, she lost her youngest daughter, Debbie.  Both deaths were sudden and unexpected and had a negative impact on Heather's well-being.  Shortly after Debbie's death, Heather had a fall resulting in injuries that required her to go into permanent care at Sea Views Manor  This is where she passed away late on the evening of Friday, the 1st of June, after spending her last day with her granddaughter Katie who is halfway through a medical degree.  Heather was a teacher to the end

What memories do I carry of Heather?

Heather was always curious an in retirement kept her mind active with cryptic crosswords, Scrabble and Sudoku.  Her knowledge was very broad and amazingly deep.  When I went for my first job in computing, I was asked during the interview if I was conversant with Hexadecimal arithmetic.  I said, yes, of course I was.  After leaving the interview, I went straight round to see Heather and she sat me down and explained how the hex worked,  After that instruction, I was able to undertake the job with confidence.

I still wonder how Heather would have progressed through academia if she had been a man.  I comfort myself with the thought that while academia may have missed out on Heather's intellect, hundreds of girls whom she taught at BBGS and Abbotsleigh benefitted from it."