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Byron Shire
April 15, 2021

What makes Mrs Woodward tick at 100 ?

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Ilma Woodward has celebrated her 100th birthday. Photo Jeff Dawson.

Paul Bibby

Sitting across from Mullumbimby resident Ilma Woodward, it’s hard to believe she just celebrated her 100th trip around the sun.

The former high school principal is sprightly, quick-witted and keen for a chat about anything and everything, from horse racing to history.

Forty years after she retired from her role as the head of Chatswood High School, Mrs Woodward remains passionate about the importance of teaching.

‘When people think about schools, they usually think about the students,’ she says.

‘But the teachers are very important too. I had a reputation for looking after the teachers and for supporting them to try new things in the classroom.’

While these days women principals are a common occurrence, back when Mrs Woodward was appointed to the job it was much less common.

‘I didn’t think too much about it at the time – you just got on with the job,’ she says.

Mrs Woodward’s success began much earlier when she was granted a scholarship to attend university.

She studied hard and received the university medal.

Soon after she got her first teaching job at Wentworth in the state’s far southwest.

‘When I finished my degree, they said, “Where would you like to teach,” and I said, “As far away from the city as I can get,”’ and that’s where they sent me,’ she says.

She went on to teach in Yass, Nowra, Sutherland, Hornsby, and Maitland, before being promoted to principal of Picton High and eventually Chatswood High.

It was while Ilma was working at Sutherland High that she met Lionel Woodward, a lecturer in French at Sydney University.

After Lionel died, some years later, Ilma married George Stokes, part of the well-known Stokes family of Mullumbimby.

The couple made numerous trips up to the Shire from their home in Sydney, and spent an extended period here in the 90s when George was suffering from poor health.

When George died in 1997, Ilma moved back to Sydney for a while, but never felt at home there.

That was 15 years ago, and Ilma has never looked back. Happy 100th Ilma!


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  1. Thank you Echo. It is great news that Ilma is still enjoying life. At Chatswood High we all enjoyed her management style that fostered creativity. She was a brilliant Principal.

  2. A strong woman who set a respectable bar for all students to strive for. Thanks for this article, very pleased to know Mrs. W. is still bringing joy to this planet. Happy, happy birthday.

  3. Awesome Ilma! Mrs Woodward was a breath of fresh air at CHS – and made 1975 memorable for more than just The Dismissal

  4. Congratulations Mrs Woodward you enabled so many of us and encouraged new things. The school newspaper and therefore quill and scroll award the fundraising dances i helped organise, camera club. Best times what a great lady Dianna Bateman (Bisset)

  5. Congratulations Mrs W on an incredible milestone. You were a wonderful principal at CHS. Happy 100th Birthday to you, wishing you many more.

  6. Congratulations on 100 Mrs Woodward – you really were a forward thinking, progressive trailblazing principal. You were wonderful at providing a forum for expression of bright and creative ideas – showing teachers how to collaborate, cooperate and participate in contest of ideas which lead to a truly innovative curriculum based on equity and progress. What an inspiration and legacy for your students and teachers. Thank you for being courageous. Susan Arentz (Reczek).

  7. Wonderful news to learn of Ilma’s longevity and still bringing joy and inspiration to those she meets.
    A superb principal who gave licence to staff to be creative.
    Great that she is able to enjoy life in beautiful Mullumbimby!


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