Ann Sheppard was the first person we met upon arriving at St. Conleth’s for an interview in the summer of 1997 and the impressions made on that day really have not changed over the intervening years: Ann was warm, honest, good-humoured and inspiring; qualities which were still on display at her last ‘official’ act as CEO: the Class of 2021’s Farewell Barbecue. And we have copious testament from older Conlethians that these qualities were there from the start, when Ann first stepped into her role as the heir to the unique Sheppard/Kelleher tradition of education, first as a teacher and then, principal. Of course, Mr. Kelleher was there on that day and, as was his wont, he certainly made an impression; one that he, too, more than fulfilled in the following years. We remember thinking how well these two people at the helm of this interesting school worked so well together as a partnership; quite different in personality and style but united in an extraordinary level of dedication and effort to one idea and one place: St. Conleth’s College.
It is not easy to follow a legend, let alone work alongside one, but Ann took the baton with grace and agility when the time for the handover at the helm came. Slowly but surely, she made it clear that, yes, she was continuing the legacy of Bernard Sheppard and Kevin Kelleher, but she also had her own ideas and her own way of doing things. Teachers at St. Conleth’s quickly learned that Ann was not ceasing to be their colleague and friend just because she was principal. The Modern Languages gang was particularly close with Ann and Françoise and Caroline united by their subjects but, probably, also their gender in what was still largely a man’s, smoke-filled staffroom. As the smoke cleared over the following decades, the clarity and ambition of Ann’s vision for the school became clearer and, innovation by innovation and brick by brick, it became a reality.
Ann’s evolution of the school really changed gears when she left the principalship and moved full-time into Guidance Counselling, School Development and, eventually, overall management as the St. Conleth’s CEO. Working closely with Principals Brendan Doyle, Peter Gallagher and Donal ODulaing, she oversaw multiple stages of development, both in curriculum and bricks and mortar. The school gym, the canteen, the music and art rooms, the performance hall… the list of extensions and refurbishments is long… and still active with work on the canteen going on as we write; however, an institution, especially a school is more than the sum of its concrete, glass and steel parts: the main ingredient for success and happiness is its people, both staff and pupils. Ann’s brave campaign to co-educate the school has been an unqualified success, and it must still thrill her to see the look of amazement on the faces of long-lost alumni who return to Clyde Road to see an impressive, gleaming structure… and girls happily streaming from its doors! This commitment extended outside the school’s walls and included the local communities of Ballsbridge and Donnybrook and the not-so-local community of Kitatya, Uganda, where Ann personally was involved for years with St. Conleth’s Expedition programme. And yet, throughout these busy years of overseeing the over-all development of the school, Ann remained what she has always been: a colleague and friend whose warmth and energy will be sorely missed… until we see her again. Yes, Ann is retiring as CEO but, after a break, she will be back to help continue the family tradition of keeping St. Conleth’s the special place that it is.