Devoted Matron had ‘right stuff’
By Roger Moroney
Napier Girls’ High School hostel students from the past and the present assembled at the Te Awanga Hall yesterday to pay tribute to and celebrate the life of a woman who they regarded as their devoted “mum” during their boarding school years.
Jennifer “Jenny” Biss, who devoted herself to looking after the young ladies of the Hewitt House hostel, died after a short illness at Cranford Hospice last Monday at the age of 74.
Mrs Biss and her husband arrived in Napier 21 years ago and she went to work as the hostel’s night-time and weekend supervisor but was soon promoted to the position of head supervisor.
Napier Girls’ High School principal Mary Nixon said Mrs Biss clearly had the right stuff when it came to meeting the needs of the more than 2000 girls who spent their school terms under the hostel roof while she was in her role over two decades.
“A former boarder herself, Jenny knew what was needed and how to deliver this as matron.”
Ms Nixon said the role was a crucial and far-reaching one.
“Overseeing the well-being of well over 100 girls – arranging leave and transport, supervising the evening meal, prep, discipline and communication with parents and the hostel manager.”
As well as excelling in the essential organisational and paperwork side of the job, Mrs Biss was equally adept in the human side of it.
“She had to take on the roles of being the in-loco parent, grandparent, aunty, judge, mentor, slave and at times even the big meanie when she had to growl,” Ms Nixon said.
“She knew all about being firm, fair, non-judgemental, kind, warm and consistent and role-modelled that daily for Hewitt House girls for more than 4500 days and nights.”
She said “hundreds” of girls and even some parents, staff and several hostel managers and Principals had experienced Mrs Biss’s “hugs, had tears wiped dry, been praised, listened to, cajoled, laughed with, paraded new outfits and been given sensible down to earth advice and frugal solutions.”
In 2012 a couple of her hostel charges decided to let more people know about the special person so many had come to rely on, take advice from and learn from.
They nominated her to TVNZ as a subject for their weekly “Good Sorts” profile and it was picked up.
She showed her commitment and devotion perfectly in one segment when she reeled off the names of a large group of girls
“I know all their names,” she said – of the nearly 130 in her charge at that time.
“I give myself a week to get all the names right.”
She said the hostel and the school was effectively her big extended family and after her husband died four years ago she said that special “family” helped her get over her loss.
She had retired from the role at the end of last year.
Photo caption – GOOD SORT: Jenny Biss when she was profiled on television’s “Good Sorts” segment four years ago. PHOTO/TVNZ