Torbay lost one of its great characters this week with the death of much-loved Emily ‘Rene’ Yates, who worked for many years as secretary at Babbacombe Church of England primary school.

Rene and Aus Yates' wedding day in 1948Rene and Aus Yates' wedding day in 1948

Rene’s late husband Austin Yates, known to all as ‘Aus’, was headmaster at the school and oversaw the move to their current site at Quinta Road in the 1980s.

Aus was allowed to appoint a secretary for 15 minutes a week and naturally turned to his wife Rene as they worked together to create a vibrant and happy primary school for children and parents throughout the Babbacombe area.

“When my father was appointed headmaster in 1965, he was told he could have a secretary for 15 minutes each week,” said daughter, Judy Yates.

“Based on that, he turned to mum, who was happy to take on the office work.

“By the time they retired 16 years later, mum was working full-time at the school and they were very proud to have been part of the pioneering team that helped to develop the new school at Quinta Road.

“Mum was Torquay born and bred, with her father born at the Cary Arms. She had a fabulous reputation as a giggler when she worked for the Prudential at the then Hydro Hotel, Daddyhole Plain. 

“She married my father, who passed away 27 years ago, in a ceremony at little St Mary’s Church in 1948.”

Not only a secretary, Rene would often join Aus in a whole range of fundraising activities to support the school and local charities, including events and fetes at Coronation Park in Torquay.

Rene died on May 20 at the age of 92 and Judy said she will always be remembered for her infectious laugh, a love of travelling, knitting and in her lifetime, she had several dogs and cats.

“She absolutely loved working at the school with dad,” said Judy. “It brought them great pleasure to see the school develop and she made so many great friends with the parents and children.

“It now completes that circle and I have been overwhelmed by the kindness and love people clearly had for mum.”