Born on April 1, 1939, Margaret Yewande Savage was the daughter of Dr. Richard Savage, and Phyllis née Ribeiro. Though both British citizens, he was of Nigerian/Scottish descent and she English/Portuguese/Ghanaian. Though highly educated, as they were employed in colonial Africa initially they both faced extreme racism. Phyllis, a talented violinist who had attended the most fashionable private schools in Europe, was employed as a local primary school teacher in the Gold Coast(Ghana). Richard was a star medical graduate of Edinburgh University as was his sister Agnes. Unlike white British citizens, when they first worked in Africa they had to sleep in the servants’ quarters, and initially were paid as “native” doctors.
Richard was a doctor, commissioned as an officer in the British Army during the Second World War, but when his first regiment saw him he was immediately demoted to corporal. Later having been promoted back again, he served in Burma becoming highly decorated.
Margaret was born in Edinburgh during a visit to introduce Miguel, Richard and Phyllis’s older son, to his Scottish grandmother. Leaving him with her, Phyllis returned with Margaret to introduce her to her father in Nigeria. Shortly after arriving she died of yellow fever. Agnes, Richard’s sister who was working in Ghana at the time, then a colony called the Gold Coast, sailed the torpedo-ridden seas working as a ship’s doctor to bring Margaret back to her Scottish grandmother and brother in Edinburgh.
Margaret’s first school was a few blocks from her granny’s flat. She once wrote that her only memory was of the smell of incense, and at home of repeatedly crossing herself reciting the rosary. As the war intensified, her grandmother moved to a village, Killin in Perthshire, where Margaret’s main memories were of her jealous brother constantly bullying her, including once trying to drown her in the river Dochert. He explained she must learn how to beat up racists, not yet having learned that her tongue was a much more powerful weapon.
Years later she joined Miguel at boarding school in Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire. This school, Fyling Hall, had been selected by Esther Appleyard, a close friend of Agnes who had been Chief Education Officer of Yorkshire before going to work in the Gold Coast. It.was a highly progressive, co-educational boarding school for children of all ages. To use Margaret’s own words,
“Teaching and school routine was unconventional and although achievement may not have been strictly academic, pupils learned to enjoy and be interested in a wide range of topics, get along with each other, and learned to work together, whilst retaining self sufficiency.”
There were few rules, interesting teaching in almost every subject, play in a wide variety of sports and enticing free time. Time spent climbing cliffs, playing in the woods, making dens, riding horses, luring hounds from the local fox hunt, and at weekends running down to the nearest village, Robin Hood’s Bay, to spend one’s pocket money.
Five to seven year old girls and boys would walk hand in hand, then at eight hated each other until they were about twelve when they would go into the woods to “ show it” to their special friend. Both Margaret and Miguel left Fyling Hall before further could take place. And both felt throughout their lives that Fyling Hall was by far the most influential educational institution they attended.
Some time after going to Fyling Hall, their grandmother become too old, so Margaret and Miguel went to spend their school holidays with their Aunt Agnes who then lived with Esther. And with Simon, their pedigree Alsatian! Fairways was a spacious, comfortable house with an acre of grounds in Frithsden Copse, a countrified suburb near Berkhamstead, a small town not far from London. It backed onto the local golf course, with woods, moors, and the local village nearby. Life was never dull. Especially as Agnes and Esther were constantly visited by a stream of fascinating visitors, including on one occasion Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana. And the visitors often took us children to the zoo, plays and parties in London!
After Fyling Hall, Margaret went to Cheltenham Ladies College, a fee paying secondary boarding school for girls from 1953-1957. Contrary to public opinion she experienced no snobbery, rubbing shoulders unknowingly with the daughters of well known aristocrats. In some ways a stark contrast to Fyling Hall, though initially she found her studies difficult, Margaret worked hard to catch up, played in college hockey, was captain of the house cricket team and all in all enjoyed her years at Cheltenham.
In 1958 Margaret was accepted by Thomas’s Hospital as a nurse. Miguel, her brother, was always puzzled that she did not become a medical doctor since she was much brighter than himself. However, she graduated in March 1962 proud of her Nightingale Badge and Silver Medal. Living with her aunt in Berkhamstead, Margaret’s first job was nearby in the West Herts Hemel Hempstead Hospital that she left to train at the Midwifery Southend Hospital in Bristol.
Margaret claimed she learned most of the theory from her Aunt Agnes, but that she liked the city of Bristol very much.
In March of 1963 Margaret joined the Princess Mary’s Royal Air Force Nursing Service. Working on the renal unit at the RAF Halton Hospital she found the work interesting, but being saluted somewhat comical. Her overseas posting was in Cyprus and was initially somewhat disappointed. Not for long. She came to love the scenery, the climate, the food, drink and especially the people. There were parties, barbecues, kebabs at local restaurants and drinks under the stars. Always in the company of close colleagues, some who drove their sports cars at terrifying speed.
On leaving the RAF in 1967, Margaret’s happiest work years were over. Though not a high flier, she had allowed work to affect her personal relationships, though she had had her flings. She had let the struggle to meet career goals—her own and other people’s—lead to dissatisfaction and job changes. Now she had no plans, and for a few months, Esther being in India, Margaret lived a carefree life looking after her lovely house in an English village until her money ran out. She then drifted back to St.Thomas’s Hospital, accepting their offer of working in their teaching school, and after a short course did so for over two years.
Then in 1970, as a black woman, Margaret felt she had to make a contribution to racist issues in the UK, and was posted to Notting Hill. The racism, squalor and hopelessness of this slum appalled her. Overwhelmed, she left and “filled in” for several months working at the other social extreme in Harrods, one of the most elitist stores in the UK, then for eight months at a charity for the blind.
In 1972, Margaret joined Waitrose, the John Lewis Partnership, as an Occupational Health Nurse where she worked for the next thirteen years. She enjoyed it during the early years ensuring standards of hygiene. But as Lewis’ grew into a major UK store, the travel became excessive and the job lost its appeal. Leaving Lewis’, Margaret’s last few years were spent working first in a deprived area where her colleagues were demoralized. She reported that her only enjoyment was working with Asian families who were respectable, hospitable and had a sense of humour.
From there, Margaret went to Amersham Hospital, a small town, to work in the geriatric unit—a job she enjoyed, learning a lot. Unfortunately she was grossly underemployed so moved to the Royal County Surrey Hospital. There, Margaret felt that nursing standards had fallen throughout her career, and were now mostly poor. But with nothing to lose she spent her last job mostly “rattling cages” and irritating managers.
Throughout most of her latter years Margaret shared rooms, flats and house with Una Madigan who she had met when they worked together at St. Thomas’s. After retirement they moved to the Isle of Wight where they lived for many years until racism forced them to leave. They then bought a cottage in a small town in East Anglia where they settled happily. Years later, with cancer, Una died suffering considerably. And just a few years later, so did Margaret in the arms of her niece, Yewande.
It would come as no surprise to anyone who knew Margaret that she left funds to establish a scholarship at Fyling Hall School, a place where she had been truly happy.
kindly written by Mike Savage, Margaret’s brother