Old Scholars will be sad to hear of the death of Mary Mileson. Mary died peacefully at Croft House Care Home, Great Dunmow on 12th February 2021, aged 90 years. She was a teacher at the school from 1952-55 and then from 1963-2003. Mary taught music at the school, worked in the Girls' Boarding House and was also President of the Old Scholars' Association, 2004-05.
Mary was much-loved, demonstrated by the many stories Old Scholars posted on Facebook in the wake of her death, detailing how much of a great teacher and kind person she was. Her son, Timothy Mileson (YG 1976), shared the following account of her life with the Old Scholars' Association:
Mary Mileson was born Mary Ray Noyce on the 9th October 1930 at Ashtead in Surrey. As a child Mary learnt to play the piano and the cello, she also loved horse riding. Mary went to Milton Mount School in Crawley, a boarding school for the daughters of Congregational Ministers. During the war the school was moved to Lynton in Somerset.
In 1948 Mary went to the Royal Academy of Music to study cello and piano. Her family moved to Loughton in Essex in 1949, when her father became the manager of the Westminster bank and they lived above the bank. Mary enjoyed her time at the RAM, especially cello lessons with Ambrose Gauntlett and piano lessons with Reginald Paul. Because she couldn’t practice at home when the bank was open, she would play the piano next door at ‘The Chestnuts’, where she got to know Geoffrey Mileson. Mary spent four years at the RAM, she left with the GRSM and the LRAM, which meant that she was qualified to teach music as well as to perform.
Mary first went to work at the Friends’ School in 1952, teaching cello and piano to individual pupils and living at Hillcroft, across the road from the school. She also conducted the school’s second orchestra. An early piano pupil was Sally Tuffin, who later formed the fashion company Foale and Tuffin in Carnaby Street, Sally called Mary ‘the sweater girl’. Mary also played the cello in local orchestras, including Dunmow orchestra and the Saffron Walden Operatic Society. In August 1955 Mary married Geoffrey Mileson, Friends’ School small choir sang at their wedding at Loughton in Essex. They lived together at Oak Hall Farm in Buckhurst Hill. In June 1956 their son Christopher was born. In 1958 the family moved to Rowley Hill Farm in Little Walden and in November their second child Timothy was born.
In 1962 Richard Sturge, the head of music, asked Mary to come back to Friends’ School to teach piano part time, she also taught piano at Saffron Walden Teacher Training College in South Road. In 1968 she began teaching full-time at the Friends’ School again, teaching piano and cello, individually and in classes. She also taught the double bass at times. Mary was a first year (year 7) class teacher for many years. Every few years choirs from the eight Quaker schools would get together to perform choral works such as Bach’s B Minor Mass and Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Mary would play her cello in the orchestra and Geoff would sing bass in the choir. In 1982, Olga Peters, Stalin’s granddaughter joined the school and Mary taught her the piano and cello, as well as being her class teacher. She also taught singer songwriter Imogen Heap piano, when she was at the school. As well as teaching, Mary also enjoyed playing the cello in a trio with her friends Guilia Rowland and Helen James, they would perform together locally.
In 1985, when Paul Tortelier the famous cellist and his daughter Maria de la Pau came to Cambridge, Friends’ School was asked to take part in a ‘Concert for Peace’ at the Guildhall. Tortelier had composed a song called ‘May Music Save Peace’, Mary played the piano to accompany the song.
Mary was frequently asked to play the piano to accompany pupils playing instruments for music exams, one ex-pupil later said that even if you accidentally missed out part of the piece you were playing, it wouldn’t matter as Mrs Mileson’s piano would still be with you. When the school’s junior department Gibson House, opened Mary began teaching the piano there, having 24 pupils at times. She enjoyed working with the younger children.
Mary was president of the old scholars association in 2004-05, in 2005 she organised a grand singalong for old scholars weekend, singing pieces from choral works that the school had performed in the past. Old scholars who wanted to take part could be sent a tape so they could learn their part for each piece. The final performance was a great success and was enjoyed by the performers and the audience.
In 2002 Mary and Geoff left Rowley Hill Farm and moved to a house in Sewards End. Mary continued to enjoy cooking and entertaining guests, and enjoyed having her grandsons come to stay from Australia. She continued going sailing regularly with Geoff until 2018. She played the piano every day and gave piano lessons to children living in the same road. Gradually she slowed down as she found walking more difficult, she stopped playing the piano when she was unhappy with the way she was playing. Mary spent the last six months of her life in a nursing home and died in February 2021. She will be greatly missed by family and friends.