Dr. Catherine Joyce Symons

Dr. Symons in her office

The following is excerpted from 'A Tribute to Dr. C. J. Symons C.B.E., J.P. (14 March 1985)':


Dr. C.J. Symons was appointed headmistress in 1953, having served twice before as Acting Headmistress. She was the first local headmistress following a long line of expatriates including Miss Betty Gibbons, her predecessor.


The school has played such a major role in her life that to many of us the letters "DGS" and "CJ" have come to mean one and the same thing.


"CJ" stands, of course, for Catherine Joyce.


Born in Shanghai in 1918, Joyce Anderson (as she then was) came with her family to Hongkong in the early 1920s and was educated at the school she would later serve as headmistress.

Dr. Symons joined the staff in 1939 as a geography teacher after graduating from the University of Hongkong and rejoined it after the Japanese occupation in 1948 after returning from London with her husband, Dr. Robert Symons. She served twice as Acting Headmistress before being appointed as headmistress.


In the past three decades she has come to be regarded as one of Hongkong's most distinguished educationalists, doyenne of school heads, and much else.


A respected commentator on social and educational issues, Dr. Symons has served in the Urban, Legislative and Executive Councils under Sir David Trench and Sir Murray MacLehose.


She was the first woman appointed to the Executive Council.


In addition, Dr. Symons has served on many Government committees, including the Board of Education, the target committee of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Transport Advisory Committee and the University and Polytechnic Grants Committee.


In Dr. Symons' leadership, as an educationalist, there has always been a wholeness of approach. This is first to be seen in what she conceives of as the cultural heritage to be transmitted by the school.


Through the years, she has encouraged the girls to see themselves as part of a historical tradition beginning from "the gallant women since 1860".


She described in the following way the aim in the education of this select group:

"..... to give ..... some insight into the treasures of Western culture based on Christian/Classical Graeco Roman concepts, comparing and contrasting these with the traditions of Chinese civilization."


She had in mind particular qualities of an educated woman, of being ....." patient listeners, relaxed conversationalist, trenchant debaters, lucid speakers, convincing writers, and people who know themselves....."


The following events and changes took place in the school under the leadership of Dr. Symons :


1954 Upper Sixth opened with the introduction of a two-year Advanced Level course leading to matriculation to the University of Hong Kong.


1956 Physics and Chemistry were introduced into Forms V and VI, full Mathematics to Form I and General Science to Primary 5.


1959 The 1913 Hall was replaced by the Centenary Hall.

September : The Junior School became private.

September : The Senior School was re-organized, but only on the academic side. There were now three Form I's with the new third stream set aside for girls from all over Hong Kong who were sent to us by the Education Department upon their successful participation in the Joint Primary Six Examination.

September : Examination positions were dropped. Promotion was based on the assessment (with grace marks) of examinations term-work, with supplementary examinations for border-line cases. The aim was to encourage a girl to work more consistently at her own level with less exaggerated emphasis on marks and positions. Transfer from stream to stream would be made annually after the summer examinations.

A new Library was opened with a total of 2,200 books. (In 1977 there were 12,250 books).

With a new Gymnasium an expatriate teacher of Physical Education was appointed.


1960 The Governor Sir Robert Black and Lady Black, together with 3 past headmistresses Miss H.D. Sawyer, Miss A.W. Hurrell and Miss E.M. Gibbons were guests of honour at the Centenary Speech Day on 10th January.


1961 - 1967 Years of settling in, consolidating all the resources as a three-stream grammar school with two Upper Sixes and a Form VI General fot those leaving after a sixth year for studies abroad or vocational training in Hong Kong.


1965 May : The Parent Teacher Association under the chairmanship of Mr. K.C. Pang donated a large 25m swimming pool to the School.


1966 The Rt. Rev. Gilbert Baker became Chairman of the School Council.


1967 The riots in the summer months were difficult times. For the first time since the War there was no Bazaar, and permission was given to launch an Annual Appeal for educational necessities not covered by grant. These include library expenses, swimming pool expenses, orchestra expenses and the non-grant of major repairs and refurbishing.

Sex education was introduced and some form of political education was started in the senior forms.

The boarding school had to be partially closed.


1968 A very successful Chinese play made a handsome contribution of over $16,000 for the improvement of facilities in th Hall.

September : New liberal studies were planned for the sixth forms, and in the junior secondary forms of I, II and III core curricula were introduced with studies in Scripture, History and Literature focusing on Geography.


1973 In the Junior School examination positions were abolished.

With the introduction of reponsibility allowances for Senior Graduates and Senior Assistant Mistresses, Dr. Symons was able to diversify various chains of command and thus to decentralise the administration of the School.

The Boarding School was closed in July.


1974 After further correspondence with the Education Department, the School Council finally decided to rebuild the Junior School.

A twelve-classroom Junior School with two additional rooms (to be donated later by The Welfare League) was planned. The design of a school building of two floors was highly recommended in an architectural competition.

September : The Junior School building was demolished. The whole Junior School (Primary 3-6) came over to the Senior School for a year.

The old Hall, former dormitory renovated from the pre-war playshed was vastly improved in memory of the late Bishop R.O. Hall who had retired in 1966.


1975 January : Ngo Kee Co. was invited to build the Junior School in 150 days at an initial cost of about $1,419,257.76.

September : Mrs. Rachel Benton was appointed Headmistress of the Junior School. Mrs. Symons was invited to remain as Supervisor. The new Junior School building was occupied on the first day of term.


1976 September : A new Form I for girls sent by the Education Department for a three-year course was opened.

Lower secondary forms have been reorganised as mixed-ability forms.


1978 January : Sir Murray and Lady MacLehose headed a gathering of about a thousand guests to visit the School's Exhibition on the theme of "Change and Challenge", to celebrate the centenary of DGS as a grant school.

Dr. Symons retired in March 1985, marking the end of 32 years as head and the end of 60 years' association with the school which began with her entry into class nine.


Dr. Symons passed away peacefully at the age of 85 on 11 June 2004 in England.





A recent visit


Mrs Emily Dai - Class of '74

Mrs. Emily Dai, class of 1974, has kindly agreed to meet with Grace Lam, Helen Wong and Connie Lung, to share her views on preparing our girls for the future.

Mrs. Emily Dai joined DGJS as Deputy Headmistress / Headmistress Designate in September 1998, and became Headmistress in April 1999 upon Mrs. Rebecca Yip's retirement. She had a long association with DGS, having completed her schooling from kindergarten to Upper Six with the school. She recalls that the kindergarten used to be situated at the location of the current swimming pool, and that it was upon development of the pool that the kindergarten was closed. The opening of the pool was one of the highlights for all the girls at the time, and was an exciting event that Mrs. Dai remembers fondly.

After DGS, Mrs. Dai completed her Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Hong Kong in 1979, and continued to pursue a part time Post-graduate Diploma in Education while embarking on her career in teaching. She then joined the Education Department to work in administration, before leaving for Australia in 1996. From 1996 to 1998, she completed a Master of Arts Degree in Education at the Macquarie University, and then returned to Hong Kong.

Before leaving Australia, she came across the advertisement for a new headmistress for DGJS, and applied for the position. As an old girl with a rich background and interest in education, Mrs. Dai aspired to contribute to her school and to achieve personal and professional growth by taking on this position of responsibility and challenge. She has found that the job of the headmistress requires all-round skills and flexibility to troubleshoot problems as they arise. As a private school, DGJS does not benefit from support from the Education Department, and hence Mrs. Dai must be resourceful in seeking advice on various issues.

When asked about how DGS has prepared her to face the challenges in life, she said 'resilience'. An appropriate level of pressure will steer the person to learn, to accept challenge and be able to adjust to changes. She mentioned that in her time, the terms IQ, EQ, AQ and MQ were not commonly used, but in actual fact, our school was then already preparing the students in these aspects. Mrs. Dai is one of the beneficiaries of this training and she believes our school should continue to provide these challenges to our next generations.

She mentioned one incident when she was a secondary school student. She was in the library with some classmates when a visitor visited the school. (While this visit had been announced to the girls, Dr. C J Symons had such confidence in the girls that they were not always given prior notice of the distinguished guests being received by the school, which was then a frequent occurrence). Dr. Symons was touring around the school with the visitor and visited the library. They approached Mrs. Dai and her classmates, and as would be expected, the girls greeted the guest calmly and courteously. All the questions asked by the guest were answered by the girls confidently and appropriately. The guest was the Governor of Hong Kong. Even though the girls were caught by surprise as the exchange had not been pre-arranged, they were always ready to face different challenges and could handle them well.

Mrs. Dai also commented that the training we received at DGS is very versatile and as the result, our girls are all-rounded. The school provides different channels of learning. Our girls learn not only academic knowledge but also skills they require to cope with life in society. DGS has the advantage of having a long history in education, enabling us to advance by building on its strengths.

One thing you may not know is Mrs. Dai was an outstanding athlete when she was in primary school. She has great interest in all kinds of sport. If you cannot remember what and how we did back in those times, you should look at the following photos. Do you remember the Skipping Race?



How about High Jump and Long Jump?

Mrs. Dai mentioned that her time in primary school has been enjoyable and educational for her. She had time to do sports and was one of the key players of the school team. By the time she moved up to secondary school, she realised that her priority had changed and she decided to focus more on academic-based activities.

DGS had subtly influenced her to accept changes in life readily. She gave as examples of such changes, the changes in the world economy and the advancement in technology which arrived without notice. We have to learn to be receptive of new things and know how to respond appropriately.

When asked about her work in DGJS, Mrs. Dai shared with us her openness in accepting new ideas to bring forth the junior school to face the new era. She has introduced a newsletter as a bridge between the parents and the School. She also started the Headmistress Award Scheme for the girls. This is to encourage them to try their best in all areas.

While we were looking at the sample of the newsletter and the award, we discovered a cabinet of mementos. There are dollies with DGS uniform, cards filled with words of appreciation and pictures with great ideas. These are all from the girls and their parents. We have no doubt that Mrs. Dai is serving the school with her utmost effort and love.


Mrs Elim Lau

Mrs. Elim Lau, M.B.E., J.P., succeeded Dr. Symons as Headmistress of DGS in April 1985 and served for 15 years until her retirement in 1999. Beginning in 1946, she completed her kindergarten, junior and secondary education at DGS. Mrs. Lau returned to DGS as a teacher in 1964 after graduating from university with a post-graduate diploma in teaching.

Mrs. Lau recalled that when she first assumed the job as Headmistress, it was like returning home to where she always belonged. She has always admired and respected Dr. Symons, and put her heart to serve DGS with her best endeavour. She did not regard herself as a Headmistress but rather as a big sister to the students and a leader of a team of dedicated teachers.

When asked to identify her happiest memory of DGS, Mrs. Lau said she cannot pinpoint any particular one. However, she still dreams of her school days and the old wooden staircases. She also treasures the episodes when students approached her as headmistress to share their thoughts and problems. She remembers the 130th Anniversary Open Day, the opening of the two building extensions, and the “King and I” performance as particular highlights of her term as Headmistress. She had a beautiful feeling when she attended the school “Wizard of Oz” performance in July 2000 as many fond memories flashed through her mind.

Mrs. Lau looks back at her years as Headmistress during a time when Hong Kong was experiencing numerous changes. Two of the many challenges she faced were during the June 4 crisis in 1989 and the years working towards 1997. As Headmistress, she had to steer the School forward amidst the crisis, alleviating the concerns of students, teachers and parents while striving towards achieving excellence in both the academic and extra-curricular arenas.

When asked about her upcoming plans, Mrs. Lau says her intention is to lead a simple life after a long career in education. With the exception of attending meetings with Government advisory committees and voluntary agencies, she has no strict timetables to follow. Currently, Mrs. Lau is an appointed member of the Board of the Ocean Park Corporation, Panel Member of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal and LP Community Adviser on Performing Arts of the Leisure and Culture Services Dept. Her other voluntary services rendered to the community include serving as Chairman, Basic Competency Assessment Main Committee of the HK Examinations Authority Council, Director of the Hong Kong Adventure Corps, Director of Welfare Handicrafts Ltd. and Member of the Council of Hong Kong International Institute of Educational Leadership as well as its academic board

Mrs. Lau enjoys cooking, travelling and singing in the alumnae choir and her local Church Choir, where she cherishes the joy and fellowship shared with others. She also occasionally plays the organ at Church. Her desire now would be to continue to contribute to society by sharing her experience with others, and she welcomes the opportunity to discuss her thoughts, especially in the field of education.

In the summer of 2000, Mrs. Lau had the wonderful opportunity of attending the class reunion in Honolulu of the Class of 1965, for which she was Form teacher in her first year of teaching.

Mrs. Lau and her family intend to stay in Hong Kong, and she is looking forward to doing more voluntary work and spending more quality time with her family and grandchildren. Mrs. Lau has a daughter and a daughter-in-law who are both DOGA members!

Click on the following photos for a better view:

Mr. & Mrs. Lau in Sausalito, San Francisco, Jul. 00
Mrs. Lau at the DOGA Dinner for past headmistresses, Dec. 00,
pictured here with Mrs. Yip (2nd from L) and Dr. Symons (2nd from R)
Mrs. Lau with her husband, son and daughter-in-law, on Nathan Road on New Year's Eve, Dec. 00
Mrs. Lau in Danang, Vietnam, Jan. 01
Mrs. Lau in Umea, Sweden, Mar. 01
Mr. & Mrs. Lau with their daughter, daughter-in-law and two grandsons, 
Apr. 01
Mrs. Lau at the Honorary degree conferment ceremony of Dr. Daniel Tse, Jun. 01 (pictured here with Dr. and Mrs. Tse, and Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Mok)
Mr. & Mrs. Lau on board the Star "Virgo" celebrating Mrs. Lau's birthday, May 01
Mrs. Lau at the DGS staff farewell luncheon for Mrs. H.S. Tang and Mrs. D. Choy, Jul. 01 (pictured here with Mrs. Stella Lau, Mrs. Tang and Mr. Oddie)

Mrs Rebecca Yip

Mrs. Rebecca Yip served as Headmistress of the Junior School for 10 years from September 1989 until her retirement in April 1999. She has had a long association with DGS, being a student herself at DGS from 1950 to 1956 and a teacher at the Junior School during the periods from 1958 to 1969, from 1979 to 1982, and from 1985 to 1989, respectively.

Mrs. Yip was much beloved and respected as a teacher and headmistress.   At her retirement in April 1999, the School's Parent-Teacher Association honoured her by dedicating a special shield in her name "The Mrs. Rebecca Yip Shield", to be awarded each year to a Primary 6 student who demonstrates a strong knowledge in Scriptures and embodies Christian virtues in her conduct and service to others.

Mrs. Yip has recently relocated to Canada with her family for her retirement.



Please click on any of the images below to view the enlarged version.

As a DGS teacher

Receiving her 1954
Scripture Prize

As a DGS teacher

With Mrs. Blomfield

At her farewell concert

With Mrs. Blomfield in 1989

At her farewell concert in March 1999


DGS Headmistress - Stella Lau, Class of '72

As DGS graduates, we are very much aware of the important role our education at DGS plays in our formative years. It is not difficult to appreciate, whether or not we now have our own children, the mammoth task that our teachers undertake to help us get to where we are today. A headmistress may not have regular teaching duties, but her job is no less demanding.

Mrs. Stella Lau, of the class of 1972, took an hour off her very busy schedule to meet Winnie Kong and Delpha Ho of the Editorial Sub-committee, and to share her thoughts as Headmistress of her alma mater.

After graduating from University of Waterloo in Canada with a first degree in Sociology, Stella spent the first 10 years of her working life as a Community Relations Officer at the Independent Commission Against Corruption and then as a language teacher at the Ministry of Defense (UK) Chinese Language School. A 4 year posting with her family in Geneva ensued, during which time she took the opportunity to polish her French. On returning to Hong Kong in 1990, she joined the staff of DGS to teach Psychology, became the Counselling Mistress in 1993, Deputy Headmistress in 1994 and has been the Headmistress since 1999.

Stella became a teacher at DGS purely by chance. After being reassured that her daughter Queenie had settled well and was enjoying her time at DGJS, Stella applied for a post with the then Education Department as a supply teacher. When she was referred to the School by the ED, Mrs. Elim Lau, then headmistress of DGS, suggested to Stella to join DGS as a Psychology and English teacher instead. Although Stella had only taken Psychology as a minor subject in her degree and it was already then half-way into the first term of school, in true DGS spirit she took up the challenge and worked hard with her students who were to take the A- level examinations on the subject that school year. Her efforts paid off and she was rewarded by having six of her nine students scoring A in Psychology.

Of course, Stella by no means regards this achievement as the fruit of her efforts alone - the students have worked very hard with her. It underscores what she sees as a fundamental quality of DGS students. DGS girls have aspirations and are willing to work with the guidance the school offers towards attaining those aspirations.

Stella believes it to be of utmost importance in education to help DGS students build a solid foundation from which they could excel. This includes a sound moral training to enable DGS girls to have a "free and uncluttered mind" and a clear direction. DGS also creates an environment for students to hone their English and Chinese/ Putonghua skills, providing them with the basic tools of further education. In order to help students develop their diverse skills (be it in academic achievements or otherwise), students are encouraged to join all kinds of activities/competitions (not confined only to those subjects that they are taking at school), and annually "Most Improved Awards" are also handed out. Stella is particularly proud of the 'everyone helps everyone out' spirit at school - teachers give guidance and assistance to the students, older girls look after the younger ones and those with experience in some particular interest or subject help their less knowledgeable colleagues. Teachers and students of all ages are encouraged to mix in different aspects of school life to achieve a particular goal and/or to complete a project. Everyone is encouraged to take on a 'continuous learning' attitude. This helps foster a unique "closeness" within the school.

Presentations by recipients of external awards (such as for music and speech festivals and other external competitions) within the school are intended not only to show appreciation for the hard work and effort of those recipients, but also to encourage other students as well by demonstrating to them what they may be able to achieve if they are willing to try and put in the effort to do well.

DGS welcomes students with varying degrees of talents. Stella personally interviews all student applicants and prefers to select those whom she considers would likely participate in all different aspects of school life, fit in and be able to enjoy themselves at DGS. She works closely with DGJS in the early nurturing and training of students who have acquired particular skills and/or developed specific interests, so that the Senior School may continue the development of these skills and/or interests as the girls join DGS.

Very much an integral part of her efforts in perpetuating the DGS family, Stella adopts an "open door" policy with the students. Although she does not have any fixed teaching duties, students are encouraged to talk to her about any and all topics.

Having been a DGS girl herself, Stella finds that in many ways, DGS has always been a very progressive school and is well placed to deal with changes in times and the proposed education reforms. Project work, for example, is not something new to the way subjects are taught. It is not unusual, particularly in senior classes, for students to raise new issues which are not covered by the teaching curriculum, in which case teachers assume the role of a facilitator and discuss these new issues with students in the context of what they have learnt.

Not only are DGS teachers totally dedicated to education and to improving the School and what it offers, they are also very tolerant when it comes to pranks that DGS girls still play on teachers from time to time. As she puts it "Being naughty is in itself not a problem. It's in fact a sign of creativity and it certainly helps make the School more lively. What we will not tolerate, of course, is any kind of action which is motivated by unkindness or malice. The distinction between the two is an important lesson that students should learn as they mature."

Stella is proud to be a DGS graduate and to be able to take up the challenging and difficult but interesting task of being Headmistress of DGS.