Retired Woodville Primary principal mourned

The late Keith Riddles, 68, from Bellville passed away on Sunday June 26.

A father, a mentor and leader. This is how Keith Riddles, retired principal of Woodville Primary School would be remembered.

Mr Riddles, 68, who retired from the school in 2019, passed away on Sunday June 26.

His daughter Callan Riddles, 28, said her father’s death had been sudden and unexpected.

He had undergone a minor operation the week before, she said, and had seemed fine when he came home. On the day he passed away, he had been feeling ill before he collapsed and died at his Bellville home.

Mr Riddles grew up in Bridgetown and had been active in his church where he was the youth leader and Sunday school teacher.

He matriculated from Alexander Sinton Secondary School in 1973 and after qualifying as a teacher, taught at Vanguard Primary School in Athlone for five years, before moving to Nooitgedacht Primary School in Bishop Lavis in 1980.

Of his 44 years in teaching, Mr Riddles spent 32 of those years at Woodville Primary School in Woodlands, and 25 of them as principal. He started at the school in 1987 and in 1995, was appointed principal, a role in which he served until his retirement in 2019 (“Woodville Primary principal retires”, Plainsman, July 17 2019).

Callan described her dad as an “extraordinary person” and a loving and caring father. ”He made sure our cars were running, making sure we were okay and safe. We’d often go on holidays together and take trips. He was always present for anything at school. He was always there, that kind of dad,” she said.

And, she said, he was very involved in the Mitchell’s Plain community and was like a dad to the children of the community. He also loved gardening and “the simple things in life”, she said.

“When we had our last conversation, it was at night… he was in the TV room. We still had the father’s day snacks leftover, so I walked in with some midnight snacks. He still asked me if I was getting my late night fill of snacks. We laughed and spoke a bit,” she recalled.

From left are his children Reece Riddles, Callan Riddles, wife Shirene Riddles and the late Keith Riddles on a family trip.

Shirene Riddles, said her husband had “quietly slipped away ” and that she would miss his “strong presence”.

Many people, she said, regarded him as a mentor, and he was “a leader with a servant-like heart”, said Ms Riddles.

“He was very much a people’s person, loved Mitchell’s Plain and Woodlands. He chatted to anybody. He loved everyone, he was well loved and well respected. His was a life well lived,” she added.

They celebrated his life on Saturday July 9. He leaves behind his wife, son, daughter, two sisters and a brother, she said.

Current principal of Woodville Primary School, William Page said he was “dumbfounded” at the news.

“We had a fun time chatting and laughing together at a school luncheon just a few days before. I was immediately overwhelmed by a deep sense of loss, thinking of his family, whom he loved dearly. Often, we would conclude our telephone calls or face-to-face chats by checking in on our respective families,” he said.

“I joined the Woodville staff in July 2014 and since then, he has given me many opportunities to learn until his retirement in June 2019.

“You often hear the old saying of leaders having an ‘open-door policy’. Mr Riddles lived this. I recall many late afternoons chatting to him about his role as principal and how it evolved over the years. Among so many, one of the biggest lessons was his understanding and care for the Woodlands community. (He would often encourage) me to try to understand and work with the parents to benefit our children,” said Mr Page.

Mr Page said he felt like he had lost a big brother who had provided sound advice and guidance.

At a school event from left are principal of Woodville Primary, William Page, the late Keith Riddles, teacher Tamsyn Booysen and deputy principal of Woodville Lester Felix.

Deputy principal Lester Felix, who taught at Woodville with Mr Riddles for 39 years, said it was with “utter shock and disbelief” that he received the news of Mr Riddles’ death.

“He had always looked after his health, and had looked so well three days earlier. I remember the lighter moments we spent together. He had a great sense of humour.

“He was able to keep his head in crisis, he had a calming effect on everyone. He was a great mentor, had great love for the pupils and always had his finger on the pulse of activity with regard to the curriculum. He was always helpful to the community and we will miss him,” said Mr Felix.