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!