RUSSELL, NANCY ELIZABETH (NAN) nee KENT
(L.T.C.L, F.T.C.L, OBE)
Elizabeth Kent was born in Eltham in 1909, the daughter of George and Maud Kent
nee Mallard. Her mother was Australian, and her father had English parents who were
apparently acquainted with Charles Dickens, which probably accounted for the
family interest in English literature.
Nan left school at the age of 13 after the death of her mother. The family at this time were living in Hawera where her father worked as a dairy inspector.
The first recollection of coming to the town where she made a major impact in the field of speech and drama was when her parents joined in the celebrations marking the end of World War One and so was the beginning of a career that spanned some sixty years.
She could recall reciting poems at the age of five and continued to have an interest in speech throughout her school years. It was at about this stage in her career that she was one day summoned by an inspector and advised to attend university which was in those days a rather unusual and privileged event.
However it was not until the age of sixteen or thereabouts that she received tuition from a local teacher Miss Maisie Instone. Her constant interest in speech and drama saw her attain her L.T.C.L. (Licentiate of Trinity College, London) in 1929 with a 93 per cent pass mark and the following year she passed her F.T.C.L. (Fellowship of Trinity College, London).
In those early years she was a much sought after teacher and worked as a part time speech teacher for the Whareroa, Okaiawa and Hawera Main schools. She rode her bike to Okaiawa school each day to teach. As the years went by she became one of the notable teachers of speech and drama in the province with a role of some sixty pupils. Many well known radio personalities received their early training from Nan including Relda Familton.
Her charges in those day were a shilling for group lessons or two guineas a term for private lessons which comprised half an hours tuition each week. Hugh recitals were held for her pupils to gain experience in front of an audience.
During the Second World War her teaching came to an end for a year or so as she worked as a full time journalist for the Hawera Star. Marriage to Raymond Russell and three children kept her busy during the next few years but her interest in things pertaining to teaching speech and drama continued.
Along with a number of local people, Nan was instrumental in setting up the Hawera Repertory Society in 1945 and within the structure of the many competition festivals around the country, became nationally identified as an exceptional drama critic.
She became one of the few New Zealander's to be elected to the English Speaking Board of Great Britain and examined students in England. She was also recognised as an adjudicator of the New Zealand Theatre Federation One Act festivals. Nan had a major influence in world speech during her term as National President of Teachers of Speech and Drama and was also a fellow and life member of the New Zealand Association of Teachers of Speech and Drama. She was honoured by the Speech Board and awarded the Distinguished Associate of the New Zealand Speech Board .
Her love of theatre saw her travel around the world to watch theatre in many countries and eventually direct numerous productions. The first of these was A Midsummer Nights Dream which had a very successful season in the Hawera Opera House and due to public demand one further open air performance was given in Naumai park when seven hundred South Taranaki residents watched this exciting production. Other Shakespearian productions followed in later years, memorable amongst these The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice.
Nan's long and illustrious career has been a major contributing factor to the continuing strong interest in amateur theatre in the district. Her service to drama and speech was recognised by her becoming the first Life member of the Hawera Repertory Society, and she was also one of the two Patrons of the Society. In 1980 she was recognised for her services to Speech and Drama when she received the OBE.
Nancy Russell died on the 10 February 1993 at Hawera.
Article "Hawera Star" 25 Sept 1990 Hawera Repertory Society (Inc)
Obituary "Daily News" 11 Feb 1993