Fiona Hilton

‘‘Tis kindness in women, not their beauteous looks shall win my love” – so said William Shakespeare around 1590. Had he been writing today he could easily have been writing about Fiona. Her whole philosophy is that civilised society is based on kindness and she sets an excellent example herself.

Since December 2000, Fiona has been the secretary of Peppard Primary School – a job she loves. Recruited by Ann Jarvis, she worked for three more head teachers and now happily works for Nick Steele, the current head teacher. It is the diversity that she loves the most; she doesn’t know what will crop up for her to deal with. On the day I met her, she was sorting out a heating problem. Her official job description covers only half a page but if Fiona included every-thing that she does she says it would be a book. Top of the list is a willingness to get involved in everything and the ethos of the whole school is ‘all hands to the pump’ which is adhered to by everyone from Nick down. She believes that dealing with whatever is thrown at her constitutes ‘just doing her job’.

She describes the atmosphere in the school as extremely happy and this obviously extends to the children. There have been instances of children being moved to Peppard because they were bullied at other schools: one young boy was almost mute when he arrived and went on, as a teenager, to perform at the Kenton Theatre. Another wrote a Year 6 essay that made her weep with joy. Fiona attributes this to the complete change of environment they found at Peppard. Perhaps because she was bullied herself, she has particular empathy with these children.

Although not formally involved with the children, she has lots of contact with those who collect the registers from the office, gate duty, and occasionally driving the minibus; now she runs a Break-fast Club which starts at 07:30. She even collects and returns a child from home in her own car because she can’t bear the thought of his mother, with a younger sibling in a pushchair, walking down a very busy road with no pavement. The children are the part of the job that she probably enjoys the most.

The daughter of a rector, indeed the rector of Peppard, Fiona was too old to attend Peppard Primary herself when they moved into the Rectory in 1976 and she went to Hemdean House School in Caversham. The family had close links with the church for many years as her grandfather, too, was a priest. He was studying in Athens when he met, and then married, Fiona’s Greek grandmother. They re-turned to the UK where Fiona’s grandfather took a theology degree. Born in the UK, her father didn’t actually speak English until he started school. From this background, Fiona has developed a deep love for Greece and all things Greek. She has been learning the language for over ten years, cooks Greek food and tries to go every year: her favourite destination is Corfu. She has maintained family contacts in Athens and is delighted that one relative, a diplomat, will shortly be posted to London – and will give Fiona an ideal opportunity to practise her spoken Greek.

As children, Fiona’s father would take her and her two brothers to Heathrow to watch the aeroplanes take off and land. From this she developed a love of airports and, later, worked for British Airways as ground staff. She escorted unaccompanied children, dealt with bomb threats (it was the 1980s) and worked on check-in desks. Although she thoroughly enjoyed the work, she also very quickly learnt how to deal with awkward and sometimes rude people. Despite this, she still adores airports; for her they have a real buzz

During this time, she met her husband and they started a family. Two sons came along, and she didn’t work again until she started at Peppard School. Those sons, Edward and Oliver, both attended Peppard school when they were young. Home is in Sonning Common; Fiona says she would really prefer to live in Peppard but simply can’t afford it.

Her ultimate goal in life, she tells me, is to retire to Greece and write a book about Peppard School. I, for one, would look forward to reading that book.

Rita Hadgkiss