Phyllis Mary Gonsalves died December 20, 2022, at the age of 96. Her funeral service was December 22 at St Benedict’s RC Church, La Romaine.
She taught at a few secondary schools, but it was her decades spent at Presentation College, San Fernando she is known for. At different times in her long career, she taught Art, English Language, English Literature, Physical Education, and Religious Knowledge. Christine Westmaas wrote the following tribute:
Phyllis Mary Gonsalves claimed us as her own family and to generations of ‘Pres’ men and women, students and staff, parents, and benefactors, she was simply ‘Mrs Gonsalves’.
Heaven forbid that you spelt or pronounced her name incorrectly because she would let you know, in no uncertain terms, the correct version of it!
A woman of great strength and dignity, Phyllis embodied the spirit of our founder, Blessed Edmund Rice. She served her God selflessly, unstintingly and without hope of reward, through her service to the boys of this College.
She championed every worthwhile cause and quietly came to the financial rescue of so many of our young men. The scope of her generosity was boundless. Footballers on partial scholarships abroad, our Premiership Cricket Team, our Music Department, individuals whose family circumstances would have made it impossible for them to continue their education as Pres men, members of staff who found themselves burdened by sudden, crushing debt – all benefitted from her deep and sincere caring.
She never wanted to be acknowledged for what she did. She was the ‘Anonymous Donor’ who never hesitated to extend her hand. If we put our collective memories together, we would be amazed at the number of Pres men and women who received parts of her monetary treasure, always without fanfare or self-acclaim.
It can truly be said of her that her left hand did not know what her right hand was doing!
Phyllis saw it as her duty to give of her best to her students. At Presentation, she taught Art and Religious Knowledge, among other subjects. Her personal standards were very high, and she sought to instil a sense of pride and accomplishment in her students by insisting on a work ethic that would stand them in good stead throughout their lives.
She embraced the changes that came with the new technology and when schools were forced to go online in the first two and a half years of the pandemic, she mastered online teaching and marking.
This remarkable woman taught Religious Knowledge up to the end of last term (2021–2022) and she marked all her exam papers before she fell ill.
She gave instructions to Mr Hinds, past student and then fellow member of staff, as to where she had left the scripts and her recorded marks in her apartment so that they could be passed on to Form teachers.
It was Mr Hinds who emphasised to me that Phyllis saw her teaching of Religious Knowledge in a light that should well be shared with other teachers of the faith. She felt that she should take the Church to the students rather than try to drag the students to the Church.
She knew that the boys needed and deserved to be given a sound knowledge and understanding of the faith. They needed to meet and know Christ as a real presence in their lives and to have Him as their guiding force and their strength, as their unshakeable foundation for life.
Her insistence on correct grammar usage, pronunciation and intonation were legendary and she was unafraid to inform and correct even members of staff. It was her sincerity and her concern for maintaining standards that were declining in many sectors of the society that made her interactions not just appreciated but invaluable.
She accorded all the dignity and respect that they deserved, even when she had to call a spade a spade. Her intention was always to uplift, not to belittle or criticise for the sake of criticising.
A hallmark of Phyllis’ interaction with staff members was the humour that she brought to the offices of the Principal, Vice-principal, the Clerk III, the Deans, to the Staff room and to our online Staff chat!
Her apology for interrupting the work in the Vice-principal’s office was always followed by a joke because she felt that laughter would make a burden lighter to bear. Her jokes with Cindy, our Clerk III, endeared her to Cindy as much as her kindness, generosity, and her warm smiles.
Born in the same year as recently deceased Queen Elizabeth II of Britain, this English rose was a queen in her own right. She carried herself with dignity and poise. Her hair was always perfectly coiffed, her dress taste impeccable.
She held her own with king and commoner, with Presidents and scruffy schoolboys, with people whose tastes and interests may have been different from hers but whose worth she recognised and respected.
Phyllis, you have been a good and faithful servant and you have blessed our country with your time, treasure, and talent. Your husband and your son have been awaiting your coming.
We will miss you, but we know that you longed for rest. We, your Presentation family, send you our love and wait patiently until we meet you again in the heavenly kingdom.