After more than three decades as a teacher then chaplain at Franklin Public School, Sue Handley has called it a day.
Ms Handley came to Tumut in 1986, a forced transfer from Mathoura down on the Murray River, and started teaching at Tumut Public School and Franklin.
A full time teaching position came up at Franklin in 1988, and she took it, teaching kindergarten to 6th class from then until 2013.
She “retired” after that for 12 months, but still did some casual work.
“At the end of the year, Carmel Stuckey (Franklin principal) asked me would I think about doing the chaplain’s position because she was applying for funding,” she said.
“I said yes and she did get the funding.”
I seemed that Ms Stuckey had her eye set on Ms Handley for this job, and indeed she was a perfect fit.
“It was an easy spot to fit in because I knew how the school worked, I knew the kids, I knew the staff and I knew the parents and grandparents by that stage,” she said.
She was (and is) also a long-time parishioner of Tumut’s All Saints Anglican Church, so she had all the job’s bases covered.
Because she has loved where she has worked, being there with the people there has made it a great place to work since the 1980s.
“We are a Franklin family,” she said.
“It feels like a family; I’ve made friendships now that are 35 years old, and we’ve celebrated my 30th, 40th, 50th and 60th birthdays, and some of my friends have, so it’s become very special. It’s always been an easy place to work, because everyone got on so well. Even though we didn’t always agree on things, we certainly worked through things.”
Ms Handley was stunned last week when an unexpected post appeared on Franklin’s Facebook page announcing her departure and thanking her for her time and her contribution. I was soon accompanied with hundreds of likes and positive comments.
It confirmed to her that she had made a positive difference in her time there.
“I felt it in my heart, and especially after last week on Facebook; I was completely blown away by it; so much so that I still quite don’t know how to respond. When people say it individually, every so often, it doesn’t have the same impact, but all those comments in one hit; it’s amazing.”
Ms Handley said there was not as much difference between the teaching and chaplaincy roles as one might think.
“(In both) you treat people with respect, you listen,” she said.
“I suppose I always tried to treat the kids as if they were my own, and that was easy to do really. Apart from the physiological things like not having programs to do and not teaching face-to-face to a group of 30 people, and not having reports to write; I did have other reports to write but not in the same vein as a class report; in lots of ways they were very similar.”
Ms Handley explained the chaplaincy role, which is more that of a pastoral carer rather than a counsellor.
“If a child comes up and they’ve lost their pet, and they’re in class and they’re feeling really sad; I might get a call from a staff member saying someone is really sad, they lost their pet last night, it was hit by a car, they saw it, they’re really in a bad way, can you have a chat with them, and I’d have a chat with them about what it was like having a pet, talk about the good things, the cycle of life,” she said.
Ms Handley knows what she will miss most about the job.
“The people,” she said.
“Absolutely. The staff are my family now. My mum and dad used to live here, but they’ve since passed away, and my best friend’s also passed away; she was also a teacher at Franklin.”
The staff and students of Franklin are family, and while she will miss them, she has an open invitation to morning tea at the school every Wednesday, and she and the other staff members go out for lunch every time one of them has a birthday.
She has stepped aside because funding for the chaplaincy role has run out.
“I’m also ready for a break,” she said.
Franklin principal Carmel Stuckey said Ms Handley had been a valued member of the Franklin team in the teaching role, and as chaplain had supported many families, students and teachers in the school.
“In the school community, she is a valued person of confidence, professionalism and trustworthiness,” she said. “People felt comfortable talking with Sue. She will be sadly missed by the school community.”