No. 196

OSB Logo The Old St Beghian
  January 2020


Joan Lees.

David Elston has kindly submitted the following notice:

Old St Beghians, particularly those from the mid-1960s to early 1980s, will have been saddened to hear of the death of Joan Lees, whose husband Geoff was Headmaster from 1964 to 1980, on 13th December 2019 following a stroke earlier in the year. She was greatly liked and her natural warmth much appreciated by pupils, parents, staff and Old Boys.

She was born Joan Needham, on 30th January 1925. Her father had a business in Birmingham where she went to school and excelled in sport. She was evacuated to Stroud for a period due to the bombing in Birmingham during the Second World War. After school, she spent a year at Cheltenham Ladies College where she made several good friends.

Her innate sense of duty, much in evidence at St Bees, was clearly part of her early years. During the war she lived at home, after Stroud, and worked at the Almoner’s office at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, travelling on the bus to work and witnessing the destruction of the city from the previous night’s bombing. In the evenings she volunteered at a social club for the military. Her mother was very sociable and invited soldiers billeted locally to tea. Many were Americans and Canadians. Joan played a lot of tennis with them – some she kept in touch with for many years.

Joan met Geoff at a wedding where she was the bridesmaid and he the best man; the groom being a fellow Cambridge student of Geoff’s from Downing College. He walked her home after the wedding and proposed on their first meeting. They were married on 6th August 1949. She continued to play sport, both hockey and tennis for local clubs. She was a particularly good tennis player; before her marriage the county tennis authorities wanted her to take more coaching and play at a higher level, but her father would not allow it.

Obit - Joan Lees

After their marriage Joan and Geoff moved to Brighton when Geoff was appointed Head of English at Brighton College in 1949, becoming a Housemaster and Master in charge of Cricket and Squash. In 1964 the Lees moved to St Bees on Geoff’s appointment as Headmaster there and they remained until his retirement in 1980; they then returned to Brighton (where they had kept a house).

Joan established her own character and popularity as the Headmaster’s wife, and provided huge support to Geoff during times of much change at St Bees, and in independent schools generally. St Bees School has always had a challenge with its comparatively remote location, lovely a spot though it is, and Joan’s perceptive views and thoughts on this and other challenges were much appreciated by Geoff, and the staff. She was a very visible Headmaster’s wife, always seen within and around the school grounds, gardening, arranging flowers in the Memorial Hall and Priory as well as accompanying Geoff on numerous trips to support various sports teams, the choir and other outings. She actively engaged with parents: formally on Speech Day and informally on numerous occasions, (including exchanging gardening tips with some). Being eminently approachable, she also had a knack for engaging with pupils, past and present, many of whom – to her delight – kept in touch with her and Geoff after their retirement. Those pupils lucky enough to reach the heady heights of a Head of House also sampled her excellent cuisine and lively company over dinner in their fine School House apartment.

Geoff died in 2012 after a lengthy illness and in September 2014 at the age of 90, Joan returned to St Bees for Old Boys’ Day to rename the refurbished cricket Pavilion ‘The Lees Pavilion’ in Geoff’s memory. It was an unforgettable occasion, the school looking fine in the glorious sunshine, with Joan in sparkling form, entertaining all with her witty and pertinent speech and engaging with everyone before and after, including many former members of staff. She hugely enjoyed the occasion and meeting new faces including the then Headmaster James Davies, with whom she had a long discussion. She was therefore understandably shocked and saddened when less than a year later the news of the school’s closure was announced. However, she was a very philosophical person and, through various Old St Beghians, thereon followed closely the proposals for it to be re-opened, and she remained keenly interested in the school and its future up until her death.

She was a true friend and supporter of St Bees School, and through her own individual charm gained a huge number of friendships with former pupils, and their families, through her long and active life.

Further Photos may be seen by clicking here.




The St Beghian Society    
St Bees School,    St Bees,    Cumbria,    CA27 0DS

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