Richmond School of Arts president Margaret Thorne retires

Countless cups of tea, sandwiches and scones, as well as hours applying for grants, have gone into funding the upkeep of the historic Richmond School of Arts (SOA) building during the tenure of local legend Margaret Thorne, who hangs up her hat this month after 43 years as a member, including 39 as president.

The Grose Wold resident, aged 84, has ties with the building going back to her stint as an usher during the Richmond Players' first shows in 1952, and further still through childhood eisteddfods.

"The time has come to hand the baton over. I'd like to spend my energy on other things while I still have the energy," Mrs Thorne told the Gazette.

This will include writing a book detailing the history of the SOA, golfing at Windsor, and visiting with friends.

Mrs Thorne, who will now undertake the honorary role of patron, said there is still "lots to be done" to further expand the facility - which opened to the public in 1866 - including installing air conditioning in, and a lift up to, the Archerfield Room.

"It's my dream to see it come to fruition and it's a shame I didn't achieve it in my time," she said.

Mrs Thorne stressed the importance of keeping the SOA open for the community for years to come.

"You have to constantly look forward, keep standards high, and make improvements that don't impinge on the heritage of the building," she said, imparting advice to future presidents.

She said she would miss the contact with people and the satisfaction of planning events, such as the 150th anniversary with Dame Marie Bashir, and improving the place.

"When I came there was a strip of lino down the hallway and the walls were very sad," she said.

Mrs Thorne and her committee were responsible for - among other achievements - renovating the Archerfield Room, rebuilding the Murray Wing, installing air conditioning in the auditorium, padding the chairs, carpeting the hallway and surrounding rooms, and opening the office to the public.

"Raising funds has always been a problem to overcome," she said.

"With a heritage building it must be used, but you've got to look after it, it's like a person - if you keep moving you're much better off."

She said: "I'd like to thank all the people who've been supportive of the School of Arts and of me, and supported the various functions, trades people who were involved in emergencies and big projects - it was very much appreciated."

Mrs Thorne also thanked this newspaper for its support over the years, long-term tenants including Sandra Deacon Dance Centre and the Richmond Players, and all the committee members she had worked with.

Rob Stalley, interim vice president, said Mrs Thorne had left the SOA in "a very healthy state".

"This has been one of her lifetime achievements being involved in the Richmond Players and School of Arts and she has done a magnificent job as president [of the SOA] for the last 40 years," he said.

"From her perspective I think she would like to do another 40 years but unfortunately time has caught up.

"She is a tremendous person and it's a tremendous achievement on her behalf - and the whole time as a volunteer, what a remarkable lady."

Sean Duff, ex-Richmond Players president, will be SOA interim president until the board recruits for the committee at the AGM in August.

The Richmond School of Arts is at 26 West Market Street, Richmond. The office is open on Wednesdays and Fridays, 8.30am until 12pm, and the team can be contacted seven days a week over the phone on 4578 2110, or at richmondschoolofarts.com.au.