Every boarder at St Andrew’s during those years got to know Judy. She was a familiar face at mealtimes and a ‘Mum’ figure to many – someone who was never afraid to give a hug when it was needed, engage in friendly banter, or ‘remind’ students (and staff in the staffroom) if they didn’t meet her unrelenting high standards and expectations. “I’ve sometimes been called grumpy, but when people get to know me, they find out I’m as soft as anything. Quite a few years ago a girl wrote me a note which said, ‘I thought you were hard on me, but then I found out what you were really like’. I keep little things like that.”
Judy says she has ‘really missed’ the students since her retirement. “The best part of the job was getting to know a lot of them really well, and I always enjoyed catching up with the Old Cols when they come back to the College for various events.”
There were many changes at St Andrew’s College during Judy’s time, with the introduction of girls, and the Christchurch earthquakes, having the biggest impact. “The quality of meals also definitely improved a lot compared to the simple meals the boys ate when I first started.”
Mopping the floor was always the last job of Judy’s workday at St Andrew’s College. Each day when she finished, she would open the door to the office of General Manager, David Evans, and say it was done. “David would say, ‘I’ll get my swimming goggles on.’ It was our daily routine,” says Judy.
Catering Manager, Russell Gray, said at Judy’s farewell on Friday 31 July, that in addition to her warmth and caring nature, she is remembered by the catering team for many things – jokes that lasted for years, her taste for curried sausages, her generous pours at functions, and a love of anything competitive. “Judy loves meat raffles, Housie, Woman’s Weekly competitions – there was even a time when she managed to get on the radio while supposedly working, only for us to be listening live in the kitchen to that very station.”
Russell says he misses his ‘trusty soldier and rock’, who worked so hard with an infectious grace loved by all. “She has been there through my various life stages and would even on occasion remind me to ring my mum.”
Former MacGibbon House Manager, Joe Leota, was another to pay tribute at the farewell, when he said Judy is ‘one of a kind’, with a generous spirit and larger than life personality. Observations from others in the College community included, ‘massive heart’, ‘has a soft spot for those who use their manners,’ ‘a bit scary to the boys until she gets to know you, then it’s banter all the way’, and ‘the boarding girls loved Judy as they felt very much at ease talking to her and miss the hugs’.
Retiring is not really in Judy’s nature. She now works part-time as a carer and cook, and volunteers with the New Zealand Blood Service, for whom she has also donated blood more than 115 times. “I had some good times at St Andrew’s College, but I’m enjoying semi-retirement and having more time to spend with my whānau,” she says. Judy was delighted to return to St Andrew’s to attend the Boarders’ Assembly, where she was presented with a Boarders’ Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 1983, Judy Reilly started her first night shift in the Strowan House kitchen. This was the beginning of an almost 37-year career with the College, which ended in April when the much-loved ‘Dining Room Lady’ retired.