Tributes to School Chairperson – Mrs Jean Buttimer – from Ballineen, County Cork

In the November issue of the Cork, Cloyne and Ross, being distributed today, the Bishop of Cork, Dr Paul Colton, thanks and pays tribute to the chairpersons of the boards of management of primary schools under his patronage, among them, Mrs Jean Buttimer.

Sadly, Jean Buttimer, who served on the board of management of Ballymoney National School for 44 years and as chairperson for the last ten years, died on Thursday, 31st October, an exact month before her term of service ended.  Even in her last days in hospital she was concerning herself with the business of constituting a new board of management for the school.

When boards of management were first introduced in 1975, Jean was elected as a parents’ nominee. Her son Stephen was in junior infants. She became the secretary to the board and continued in that role for the next thirty-two years. The school was a one-teacher school at the time.  In those days the school had no telephone and the story is told how if Mrs. Bennett, the then principal,  ever had a problem, she told the postman who in turn passed on the message to Jean when he got to Jean’s house; and Jean would come down to help. The pupil numbers dropped down to just six pupils at one stage but Jean kept her children there and supported the school.  The school began to grow again and, in time, became a two-teacher school.  Bishop Colton appointed Jean as chairperson of the board in 2009.

Ms Shireen Rountree, who has been principal of the school since 2008, tells of how important Jean Buttimer has been in the life of the school:

We had very clear roles. Jean dealt with all the maintenance issues. She often volunteered her husband Richard and son Stephen to come in and fix things. It was Jean who pushed and encouraged me to apply for a grant for the first extension. We decided to change the entrance while there was building work going on but we were €10,000 short.

It was an ambitious project for a school with just fourteen families but they were very committed families.

When we were short of money at the end and all were exhausted from fundraising, Jean held a cake sale and coffee morning in her house and wrote two quiz sheets to raise the shortfall. We had no money left to finish off the job. Jean and Richard painted the bathrooms to save money. We needed a kitchenette so she donated her old kitchen units and I had two bits of worktop that we put together to create a temporary kitchen. She was excited by the progress and continued to encourage me to apply for grants and so the resource room and the new toilet block were built.

Since she took over as chairperson, every room in the school has been transformed and the school has invested in many new resources.

Jean was very caring and looked after the staff so well. Four of her grandchildren have been pupils in the school. She used to remind us that our families were the most important in our lives and to remember to put them first, before our jobs. She adored her six grandchildren. She collected them every day as infants so she was a regular visitor to the school office.

She wrote cards to the pupils and dropped in treats after the Carol Service each year to encourage them. She addressed the whole school community at the End of Year Pot Luck Supper each year and encouraged the PTA and staff in particular. Her health deteriorated in recent months but she still made her End of Year speech this year with the aid of her oxygen tank. We held our last BoM meeting in her house in August to approve our most recent appointment.

September 2018 marked a highpoint in Jean’s work in leadership, commitment and partnership with others at the school.  All the projects and improvements were completed and paid for, and Bishop Colton visited  to perform the official opening and dedication.

Mrs Jean Buttimer (left) at the official opening of extensions to Ballymoney National School in September 2018 with Bishop Paul Colton, Ms Shireen Rountree, Margaret Murphy-O’Mahony T.D., and the Reverend Stella Jones (rector at the time).

Rightly on that occasion, tributes were paid to Jean and presentations were made.

The school was not the only area of Jean’s voluntary work and leadership, all done with the enthusiastic support of her husband Richard and their family.   Jean was involved in many other community groups.  She was one of six parents who set up a group called BASC (Bandon Area Special Children). They set up the first special class in a mainstream school in Bandon in 1985. This was the first special class in Europe. The Ambassador of the United States of America presented Jean at the time with an award for her involvement with the project.

She was on the executive committee of Co-Action and fundraised for years to build the Clonakilty Co-Action Centre. She was also a founding member of West Cork Carers Support Group.

Active in her parish of Kinneigh Union, Jean served on the Select Vestry for a very long time, also for a time as secretary and as sustentation fund treasurer.  She was one of the people who led the project to restore St. Paul’s Parish Hall in Ballineen.  Jean was a member of the Diocesan Synod of the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

Paying tribute to Jean, Bishop Paul Colton said;

Jean was indeed inspirational and a pleasure to work with.  She was straightforward and practical; the sort of person I love to work with.

Most people in the wider Church of Ireland will not have heard of Jean until perhaps now.  Stories of remarkable and faithful people like Jean sadly, in my view, do not get told or heard often enough in the Church.

She was strong in her leadership and commitment and I was genuinely sad to receive the news of her death. I was not surprised that even in her last days she was concerned about a vacancy among the school trustees, and directed that clarification be sought from me.  She was even making suggestions about who would be good people to take on the role of community nominees on the new Board of Management due to start its work in a month’s time.  We are the better people and place here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross because of Jean and her work.  I extend my deepest sympathy to everyone whose lives she influenced and most especially to those who knew her best and loved her most, her husband Richard, her children Stephen, Rosemary, Elizabeth and Andrew, their families and the wider family circle and friends.  May Jean rest in peace and rise in glory.

Mrs Jean Buttimer with the Bishop following the official openings at Ballymoney National School in September 2018.

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