Rosemary Hill’s impending departure as leader of the Cambridge Health and Community Trust will be met with considerable sadness by many.
After being a trustee for 25 years and chairperson for 22, she’s stepping down at the organisation’s AGM on June 20. At a remarkable 87, she feels the time is right to pass on the baton, to allow others to take the Heath and Community Centre into the future.
Rosemary is one of two trustees bowing out this year; the other is Bill Louth, leaving after a nine-year stint. Their departure means the search is on for two new trustees to make up the seven, people Rosemary suggests will be team players content to deal with ordinary ‘landlord-type’ tasks related to the running of the centre.
“It’s not too arduous,” she assured, “meetings are once a month, and no-one need take a portfolio if they prefer not to. It’s just about making decisions together and voting around rather mundane things, although it would be useful if they had some experience in running committees. For my own part, I have always enjoyed the collegiality; it’s a great team.”
There is a quiet assurance about her decision, and with piles of books waiting to be read, and a delightful garden calling her outdoors, why shouldn’t there be?
Rosemary is one of Cambridge’s stately, humble gems – a no-nonsense edifice of a woman whose imprint on the town is everywhere. It’s in her 20 years’ teaching at Cambridge High School and in a combined 18 years embroiled in local council and Cambridge Community Board affairs. Even before she began her lengthy tenure with the Cambridge Health and Community Trust, she was a trustee with Cambridge Community House – then the Cambridge Community Agencies Network – working quietly to benefit others.
Much of that was unplanned but has brought great satisfaction. She “absolutely loved teaching” through 20 years of part-time work with the high school and is particularly proud of having steered the Cambridge Health and Community Trust through its tortuous early years into the healthy state it enjoys today. There were frustrations too, principally linked to what she sees as a failure for Cambridge to go it alone in local government terms and resist amalgamation. They were heady years; she was deputy mayor in Pat Allen’s mayoralty and remembers much “tut-tutting” and anti-female taunts from male-dominated audiences. Much about that era still stings like a nettle and was behind her decision to bow out of local politics.
It’s all water under the bridge now, she reckons, and in her implacably self-effusive fashion, she sees no real reason to talk about it. But Rosemary’s is a story of a gritty woman who has always written her own script and believes she was lucky to have been young when she was.
Born in Hamilton to an English father and Kiwi mother who started out farming but then moved to the city, she went off to Otago University after leaving school to do a BA in English and geography with teaching as the end-goal. After returning to Hamilton to take up her first postings, she decided to go to England for two years.
“There was an arrangement between our two governments which allowed Kiwis to go to the UK for two years without paying tax,” she explained. “After that time, not only would you start paying tax, but it might have been back-dated, so there was much incentive to stick to the two years.”
She flatted in London with a university friend and taught at various schools. It was post-war London, one where half-bombed buildings were still being repaired, but it was also an era when girls could travel widely and hitch-hike with aplomb. Rosemary and friends, with her brother on the second occasion, put in two lengthy trips around the UK and to the Continent, notching up nights spent in an old boat, a ruined castle and a haystack during particularly lean pick-up times while hitching.
“You could never do anything like that today – it really is very sad. I got the best of those years.”
Her return home to a job in Wellington had to be recalibrated due to the Suez crisis of 1956, but it was in the capital that she met Ted Hill, an English architect whose own interesting story had brought him here for something of a re-start. He was 38, she was 28 and they married within months of meeting.
Once the eldest of their four children was of school-age, the Hills moved from Wellington to Cambridge, buying the home Rosemary still lives in for £4,700, complete with an acre of land. After 10 years devoted to family, she returned to teaching, this time at Cambridge High School.
When a friend later suggested she stand for the then Cambridge Borough Council, she laughed out loud. “But then I stepped outside, and it hit me – why not? Almost as quickly I was horrified at the thought!”
It was indicative of the yin and yang, internal swinging vote that Rosemary says has characterised much of her life.
She has a great interest in philosophy too, a Carl Jung approach that qualifies all people as either “conscious or unconscious”.
“I firmly believe in that … actually it’s very easy to see people as either one or the other,” she smiled.
Rosemary is comfortable with her decision to retire. She recalls her carefree youth as the “happiest of times” and holds a dark sadness around the loss of a son. Widowed for the past 11 years, there are now four grandchildren to tend – and, of course, all those books to read.