Agnes Pottinger Drever, Classics teacher extraordinaire at St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh. Born 8 January , 1924. Died: 7 December, 2016, aged 92.
Those who deny the relevance of a Classical education in modern society would do well to fall under the auspices of Agnes Drever. This unassuming but highly astute pedagogue inspired many generations of pupils at St George’s School for Girls, Edinburgh, not only to learn but even to enjoy studying the classics and to find the knowledge gained indispensable in all walks of life from law to journalism, medicine and geology inter alia.
Agnes Drever’s parents hailed from Orkney and she never let go of her island roots, although she lived all of her life in Edinburgh until, owing to the frailties of being a nonagenarian, her loving cousins moved her to the tender care of Annfield House in Stirling so that they could visit her regularly.
Her love of Fair Isle knits was legendary from photographs of her childhood until her last days. She took great pleasure in her holidays to Orkney albeit that she went armed with her Homer for some light reading!
Miss Drever was educated at Mary Erskine School and she used to enjoy walking there in the morning with her father, a solicitor in Charlotte Square, their discussions forming a close bond between them. Indeed she would have made a fine lawyer as her sharp intellect missed nothing.
However, to the lasting benefit of her numerous thankful pupils, she elected to read Greek, Latin and Philosophy at Edinburgh University and following her teacher training she assumed her post at St George’s where she remained for her entire working years. She had an amazing ability not only to impart her encyclopaedic knowledge but to control her classes without ever raising her voice. This she attributed to a period during her training when she quickly had to learn to discipline a wild class of Watson’s boys!
Ours was, I believe, a special Greek class (1964-1968) and we undoubtedly were blessed with a special teacher. We were her first Greek group for some years (although Latin had continued constantly) and we started a trend which was ongoing.
Miss Drever’s standards and expectations of us were so high that she allowed us only one day to master the Greek alphabet, setting the precedent for life of “carpe diem” (seize the day).
After four years of her tenacious tutoring and her Homeric philosophy of “ever to excel” we achieved top grades in Highers and A-Levels in both disciplines.
But combined with her strict regime of learning was a kindly, caring omniscience.
I am sure that she knew that one member of her Higher Latin class dared to keep a Latin Dictionary on her lap; and that Edwina Burness and I had almost uncontrollable giggles in a small music room assigned to a small Greek class faced with the gigantean task of conjugating the optative pauoimi, pauois, pauoi (I, you, he would stop). (Try saying that when you are stifling your nervous laughter.) Little did she guess at our anguished phone calls over our weekend “prep” trying to find a “suitable” translation for Plato’s “T’Aphrodisia” which today would simply be “sexual desire” but in our school days it had to be more euphemistically referred to as “the delights of love”.
But Miss Drever’s enduring concern to ensure that we understood what we were agonising to translate was epitomised in two of her favourite exhortations: “Read what’s in front of you”; and when you had sweated through some dire passage and thought you had got it over you were roused from relief by her classic “whole thing over again”.
In her enthusiasm that we should continue with our classical studies at all costs she would point out cupboards where certain textbooks were stored “in case anything happens to me in the night”!
Sadly, the inevitable has now happened to Agnes, but at 92 years of age she justly deserves her rest even from Greek and Latin. I am told that even at 90 she had no problem in translating sections of New Testament Greek. She will be a formidable match for St Peter, Socrates and the heroes and saints who have gone before.
It is a testimony to the warmth and depth of her character that such a large number of family, friends and former pupils foregathered for her funeral and shared fond and funny memories of her.
Vale Magistra Cara (farewell dear teacher). Enjoy the Elysian Fields in the happy knowledge that you have left your indelible stamp on your pupils and their lives. We shall always be “Drever Girls” and gratefully so. And had we to decide whether to relive our classical education we would undoubtedly respond “whole thing over again”.
FIONA M MACLACHLAN