Margaret Susan Grace (nee Gallagher) Pyrgos, Biography 5th January 1914 - 2nd July 2014
Margaret Susan Grace (nee Gallagher) Pyrgos was born on 5 January 1914 at 6 Tyne Vale Terrace, Lemington on Tyne, Northumberland, England. Margaretís father, Thomas Edward Gallagher, was born in West Hartlepool, County Durham to an Irish father, Edward Gallagher from Ballina, County Mayo. Margaret's father was an accomplished actor, acrobat, pianist, singer and Rugby-Footballer, and won a cap playing Rugby for County Durham. Her mother, Ethel Blanche Austen, was the daughter of a postmaster from Faversham, Kent, and claimed that her family was related to the novelist, Jane Austen. Her parents met while Thomas was performing acrobatics on tour.
Early years in Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Margaret was the fourth of six children until her eldest brother, Teddy, died in 1915. Margaret had two older brothers, Paul and Alfred, and a younger sister, Liles, and a younger brother Brian. 1914 saw the start of World War I. When the air-raid sirens sounded, Margaret's parents would usher her and her siblings into the cupboard under the stairs to wait out the German bombing raids.
At about the age of 7 (c1921), Margaret and her family moved to 10 Greenfield Place, Ryton-on-Tyne, a rather more up-market area than Tyne Vale Terrace. Here they became friendly with the children of Ray Foster who lived in a large house in Woodside Lane at the end Greenfield Place.
Sometimes, friends of Margaretís father would come round to the house and they would gather in the front room to hear her father play the piano and sing. The expense of the new house was more than his fatherís job at the nearby Spencer Steel Works could support, so the family let out the upstairs to lodgers.
South to Devon (1925)
About 1924, Margaret's father, Thomas, developed cancer of the neck and throat. He had been kicked in the throat while playing Rugby and it was thought that this might have triggered the condition. So, in 1925 Ethel sold most of the family belongings including the piano, and the family moved south to the warmer climate in the hope that it might improve Thomasí chances of recovery. The family moved to Ash Farm, Ottery St Mary in Devon, but sadly, Margaretís father died in April 1926, the year of the UK General Strike.
Soon after Margaret's mother arrived in Devon with her sick husband, young family, and no source of income, they met the Lindsay family through the local church. The Lindsays, were relatively well off and on learning of Ethel's predicament, they very generously paid for Margaret's youngest brother, Brian, to go to the Convent School in Bridport, Dorset as a boarder, and also for Margaret and her sister Liles, to attend boarding school. She attended the Convent School, Palace gate, Exeter from November 1925 to December 1930, "obtaining good results in both Junior Oxford and School Certificate" according to a testimonial signed by the school Principal, Sister Mary Xaveria. She served as a prefect from 1928-1930, and was recorded as a "Pupil of Distinction".
Meanwhile, her brother Alfred, now 14, started a paper-round before school and her brother, Paul, found work as a gardener and odd-job man at Deer Park, Buckerell to help support the family.
After the death of her father in 1926, the family moved to Honiton, where they lived in a flat over Tremayneís Garage. However, her mother, Ethel, felt intimidated by the Garage owner Mr Tremayne who had a reputation as a ladies man, so the family eventually moved to a flat in the High street over the Millinerís shop (ladies ware). The family subsequently lived at various addresses in nearby Exeter.
After graduating from the Convent School in 1930, Margaret spent a year in a French school, at Villa Loreto, Bordighera, Italy. She then taught French, Botany, Geography, History, English and Tennis at Comrie High School, Exeter from 1932 to 1936.
From 1937 to 1941 Margaret took up her studies again at University College of the South West in Exeter as an external student for the University of London, and earned an Honours Degree in French from London University in 1940, a rare accomplishment for any woman at that time.
Margaret's mother's first cousin, the Rev. Walter George Austen (1879-1940) who was head of the Salesian College in London, had recognised Margaret's academic aptitude and had become her generous benefactor. He sponsored her graduate education and lived just long enough to see her gain her honours degree from London University in 1940.
In 1941, two years into World War II, Margaret and her mother moved to Crewkerne, Somerset to escape the German bombing around Exeter. She was appointed head of the French department at Crewkerne Grammar School, a boarding school for boys, where she also taught English, Latin and German until 1948 when she left for adventure in Greece.
The Greek Connection (1949)
In January 1949 Margaret became a founding staff member of the Anglo-American High School in Athens, Greece. The school was opened in January 1949 under the auspices of the British Army and the British and American Embassies, for the children of members of the various British and American Missions, Embassies and commercial undertakings in Athens. She worked at the school until July 1952.
Being the natural linguist that she was, Margaret grasped the opportunity of being in Athens to learn Greek. She responded to an advertisement for private Greek lessons from a local law student, Nicholas Pyrgos, who spoke excellent English and was trying to earn money to fund his law studies. The Greek lessons blossomed into romance, as evidenced by a hand-written note on a small paper serviette amongst Margaret's most treasured possessions which reads "N. Pyrgos 5/10/49, Afternoon tea in Floca, Our first date...". A little over two months later they were engaged on Christmas Day, Sunday, 25 December 1949, and celebrated it at the 'Chaffey's Christmas luncheon'. Margaret and Nicholas were married on 28th October 1950 in the Church of the Sacred Heart in Athens, just a year after their 'first date', though unfortunately, none of Margaret's family was able to be present at the wedding.
Margaret's personal notes record that during the following two years she and her new husband Nicholas had never been happier. However, life in Greece was changing with rising anti-British sentiment, so fearing for Margaret's safety, Nicholas persuaded Margaret that they should move. Margaret left Greece for England in October 1952, followed by Nicholas in February 1953.
Vancouver, BC, Canada (1953)
After a few months in England, they set sail from Southampton on the Cunard liner, R.M.S. Samaria on 29th April 1953, for a new life in Vancouver, along with eight telegrams of good wishes from her family that Margaret kept always.
Margaret joined the staff of Crofton House School for Girls as a French teacher in December 1953, while her husband, Nicky, took law classes at the University so that he could qualify to practice as a barrister.
Margaret's 100th Birthday with nephew David
and cousins Irene & Deborah, Jan 2014
Do you remember Margaret Pyrgos?
We are in the process of adding to the above biographical account of Margaret's life (including her husband Nicky). So if you have any memories, stories or anecdotes that you would be willing to share, please send them to David at email@example.com We shall provide due acknowledgement and respect any privacy requested.
Can you help us identify this family?
This family were apparently friends of Margaret (photo taken 1980 in Vancouver, BC).
Crofton House School for Girls (53-73)1
Margaret taught both English and French in the Senior School, and was also Head of the French Department, until her retirement in December 1973. For many years she was responsible for overseeing the production of the School's yearbook, the Croftonian.
One of her most memorable contributions to the school came in 1973 - the year in which the school celebrated its 75th birthday. Margaret wrote and produced a school theatrical production celebrating its history called '75 Years Young: An Historical Pageant' - but known to all as 'the Pyrgos Pageant'. It was a huge undertaking as it involved the participation of every student in the Senior School. To mark her retirement, the 1974 edition of the Croftonian was dedicated to her, and it includes a brief write-up of her career at the school. There are numerous mentions of Mrs. Pyrgos in the school's history, "Crofton House School: The First Ninety Years". One student recalled therein: 'Madame Pyrgos was my all-time favourite teacher. She was very strict - a fabulous French teacher. I think we were spell-bound by her'.
Nicky's favorite pastimes were bird-hunting, fishing and repairing old guns. Margaret would sometimes accompany Nicky on his trips as she also enjoying fishing. She was adept at cleaning and preparing the fish or the wild fowl that Nicky brought home. As a girl, she'd watched her mother many times clean chickens and fish from the local butcher or fish-monger. Kokanee Beach at Nicola Lake, BC was one of their favorite holiday haunts as it offered swimming, fishing, bird-hunting and the chance to visit their close friends, the Cressys.
Margaret has been described as the quintessential English lady, very prim and proper. However, she was always very warm and welcoming to family and friends, particularly the children, though sadly, she never had any of her own. Most years Margaret would take extended summer holidays in England to visit her friends, her siblings and their children. Margaret and Nicky always kept pet dogs. Their two Bassett Hounds, Basil and Alexander, and their Golden Labrador, Stoney, are perhaps amongst the best remembered. But the dogs were more than pets or surrogate children, Nicky had them well-trained as hunting dogs.
Tragically, in 1993 Margaret was knocked down by a taxi, leaving her with brain damage that robbed her of her quality of life. The stress of caring for her undoubtedly contributed to Nicky's premature death a year later, but for several years Margaret continued to live at home with the help of visiting care-givers. In 2006, she was moved into South Granville Park Lodge Care Home where she celebrated her 100th birthday in January 2014, with congratulatory letters from numerous dignitaries including the Queen of England.
Margaret passed away peacefully on 2 July 2014. She is survived by 11 nephews and nieces, David Gallagher in Portland, Oregon, USA and in England: Clare, Teresa, Louise, Paul, Frances, Duncan, Adrian, Vivien, Michael and Philip, and cousins Irene and Deborah in Richmond, BC.
After the death of Margaret's husband, Nicky, and in the absence of any close relatives in Canada, her husband's accountant and long-time family friend, David Allen, kindly offered to step in as Margaret's power-of-attorney. Margaret's family wishes to express their heartfelt gratitude to David Allen for his exceptional kindness to Margaret and for so expertly managing her affairs. The family also wishes to thank Ray Lyons and the staff of South Granville Park Lodge for helping to improve Margaret's quality of life in her final years. A memorial service for Margaret will be held in Vancouver later this year (2014) and the date will be published here. Any friends or ex-pupils of Margaret who would like further information are asked to contact her nephew David Gallagher at +1 503 830 2772, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicola Lake, BC holds many special memories for Margaret and her husband Nicky, so the family have decided to have Margaret's ashes scattered there, where she scattered the ashes of her beloved Nicky.
David Gallagher, July 2014
1. Information and photos regarding Margaret's career at Crofton House, courtesy of Dr Pat Dawson and Reto Tschan.
Staff of Crofton House School, 1969 (Margaret is front row, 2nd from right)1
Margaret & pupils at Christmas Dinner, 1973.1
Margaret cleaning the fish she caught
Margaret with brothers Alfred, Brian & Paul, 1998
Margaret with Ray Lyons & David Allen
Margaret, 'Stoney' & great-nephew Andrew, 1988
Margaret's husband, Nicky with Stoney, c1990
Celebration of Life & Memorial Service for Margaret
A memorial service and celebration of life was held on Saturday 25th October 2014 at St John The Apostle Church, 5457 Trafalgar St., Vancouver, BC V6N 1C1. The mass was conducted by Rev. Bileski and was attended by about 30 former pupils, friends and family. Margaret's nephew David, gave the eulogy before the mass and several others recounted their abiding memories of Margaret at the reception afterwards, including Margaret's cousin Irene Harlow, former pupils Ros Kellet and Danae Peaker, and former teaching colleague Margery Kellet.
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