Liz Russell

Elizabeth (Liz) Russell was a member of the teaching staff at Caulfield Grammar School for 35 years – from 1963 to 1997.  During this time she taught primary students at three campuses – Caulfield (Shaw House Primary School), Malvern and Wheelers Hill – and served during the Headships of Stan Kurrle, Bruce Lumsden, Angas Holmes and Stephen Newton. 


Navigating the campuses

Liz Russell’s first appointment was at Shaw House, a primary section of the School in Mayfield Street, St Kilda East (close to Caulfield Campus).  She taught Year 2 and Year 3 students there (all boys at that stage) for 17 years. Ian Wilkinson, a member of her Year 2 class in 1965, remembers Liz as a very dedicated and caring teacher, who promoted a positive learning atmosphere in the classroom and always had the best interests of her students at heart. 


After it was decided to close Shaw House at the end of the 1979 school year, Liz moved to the Malvern Campus for one year, where she taught a Year 2 class.  The decision to close Shaw House was made following a reorganisation of the School prompted by the establishment of a new, co-educational campus at Wheelers Hill.  The Wheelers Hill Campus was opened in 1981, the centenary year of the School, but in 1980 the decision to close Shaw House led to Malvern Campus becoming the sole primary school feeding Caulfield Campus and the transfer of junior secondary classes (Years 7 and 8) that had previously operated there to Caulfield. 


Liz Russell with the Wheelers Hill Primary to Year 12 students in 1993


Founding staff member at Wheelers Hill

During 1980, much planning was taking place for the opening of the Wheelers Hill campus for the following year. This included the appointment of the first group of teaching staff and in early 1980 it was announced that Liz Russell was to be one of the foundation staff members.  Liz played an important role in the planning of primary classes (students were enrolled in Year 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 at Wheelers Hill in 1981).  According to an article in the 1997 Caulfield Grammarian, written by Ross Nankervis as a tribute to Liz on her retirement from teaching, she recalled sitting with other Malvern staff members on the concrete slabs on which the classrooms at Wheelers Hill would soon be built, planning the layout of the rooms as their construction was being finalised.


Liz was in charge of a Year 3 class at Wheelers Hill in its foundation year and later taught Year 2 and Year 3 classes at the campus.  One of the four houses established at Wheelers Hill in 1981 was named “Shaw” (in honour of H McD Shaw, who served as School Council President from 1951 to 1978).  Appropriately, Liz was associated with Shaw House throughout her time at Wheelers Hill, being Primary Head of House for some of that time.


Liz Russell at the 1995 Shaw House reunion with David Hammond


A wide-reaching impact

When Liz Russell decided to retire from teaching at the end of 1997, it was estimated that she had taught over 800 children in her classes, including many brothers, sisters and cousins.  In her final year she even had the son of one of her former Shaw House Primary School students in her class at Wheelers Hill.


In addition to classroom teaching, Liz was involved in countless excursions and many camps with her students, contributed to the sporting program at three campuses and was treasurer of the Wheelers Hill Common Room Association.  She engendered a love of literature in her students and at Wheelers Hill made a significant contribution in this area by her tireless commitment to the Book Club Program in the Junior School.


In closing his report in the 1997 Grammarian the Head of the Junior School at Wheelers Hill, David Quin commented that: 


“I wish to acknowledge the singularly outstanding contribution of Miss Elizabeth Russell to our School. A member of staff of Caulfield Grammar School for thirty five years, Liz has had a profound influence on literally thousands of students. She has been a wonderful colleague and friend to hundreds of fellow staff. She leaves our school knowing that she has always given her utmost effort in every activity in which she has been involved. No doubt her best reward is the knowledge that she has helped to positively shape the lives of so many young children”.


Stephen Newton, who became Principal in 1993 and was the fourth Principal/Head under which Liz served at Caulfield, says the following about her: 


From a Principal’s perspective, Liz was the archetypal staff member. Firstly, she strongly supported both the values and the culture of our School. Secondly she was highly skilled in the craft of teaching our youngest students and she was passionate about the importance of the primary years of schooling. Thirdly, she had earned the confidence of both the parents of her students and, importantly, also of her colleagues (including four Headmasters/Principals!). Lastly, she was wise in her perceptions and judgements – and, importantly, not afraid to express her considered opinion and view. She was therefore exactly the right staff member to help create the Wheelers Hill Campus in 1981. 


Liz Russell at the 1991 10th anniversary of Wheelers Hill campus


As Stephen points out Liz remained intensely loyal to Caulfield Grammar School after her retirement and was always interested in what was happening at the School.  She also kept in contact with many of her teaching colleagues.


In wishing her well in her retirement, Ross Nankervis said “thank you” to “a very special lady and a very special friend!”  These words would be echoed by all who knew Liz and were influenced by her wonderful contribution to our School.


Liz died on 8 July 2016.  Many former colleagues and students attended her funeral service, which included a eulogy from David Quin.


As Stephen Newton remarks: 

Forty years on, what Wheelers Hill Campus – and particularly the Junior School, is today, is very much due to the extraordinary contribution of Miss Liz Russell, and this in addition to all that she had previously brought to CGS, through her involvement in the many other parts of our School. We warmly remember and honour her in this Campus’ fortieth year. 

Keep reading to find out about Will Phillips, a young Wheelers Hill Grammarian who is pursuing an AFL career.

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