One of South Lynn’s most respected teachers and a heroine of the 1953 flood, Eileen Gittens, has died at the aged of 89.
Miss Gittens lived nearly her whole life in South Lynn, having been born in Hockham Street and attended Whitefriars Primary School before going to the convent in Goodwins Road,
Her mother Maud was a tailoress and she inherited her dexterity with a needle, which helped win her a place at Avery Hill Teaching College (now Greenwich University in London) where she was the star pupil in her year, winning a gold medal for needlework.
She could have worked anywhere in the country but chose to come back to Lynn and take up a job as a teacher at Gaywood Park in South Lynn.
Over the years she became the county assessor for needlework and set the exam standards for the Cambridge Examinations Board. A member of the Queen Alexandra Needlework Guild she would be invited to tea with the Queen Mother at St James’ Palace every year.
In 1953, Eileen waded through water that was to reach 6ft deep in South Lynn, to rescue her blind grandmother in Hockham Street. Sadly, 14 elderly residents of Hockham Street and surrounding roads were to die that terrible night.
Miss Gittens, who died on Sunday, never married, devoting her life to her work.
In later years she was cared for by Christopher Crawford, who said: “She was an amazing person. Pupils that other teachers thought unruly and unteachable, she had eating out of the palm of her hand.
“It was because she had taught their mothers and their grandmothers.”
He said her main interest outside of school and needlework was stocks and shares.
“She would begin every day by studying a copy of the Financial Times. She was very astute. Well, she was just Eileen ...”
South Lynn county councillor Alex Kemp paid tribute to Miss Gittens at her funeral yesterday in South Lynn Baptist Church with a eulogy.
She said: “Eileen was a living testament to the strong spirit and sense of community in South Lynn, where neighbours help each other out, there is a closeness of family, of friends.”