Interview with Jill Smith of Stanford, South Africa

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In this, the fourth of my occasional interviews with interesting people who live in my home village of Stanford in the Western Cape, I ask the “Big Five” questions of Jill Smith, who runs the local agency of Pam Golding Properties.

It is fitting that I publish this interview today, on Women’s Day, because Jill is indeed one of those women who are, at once, strong, feminine and inspiring! But why don’t you see for yourself?

FH: Please give us a little personal background, Jill. Where were you born, schooled, shaped as a person and when and how did you first discover our lovely village of Stanford? And when and how did you and Brian meet?

JS: I was educated in East London and did what was one of only a few career choices young ladies had then – nurse, teacher, airhostess, (very posh) hairdresser and secretary.  My Mom loved courtroom dramas so I was to become a Stenographer – not a Shorthand Typist which is what it is – but a Courtroom Stenographer… it sounds so much better! You know the type, glasses perched on the edge of your nose and taking down verbatim all the sordid details.

It stood me in good stead when I moved to Jo’burg and joined SA Breweries in their PR Department. That was enormous fun and I was involved with “grooming” our top Executives for TV –  it was quite tricky addressing some of their problems, especially the ones with bad teeth, the stutterer and those who started every sentence with “If I might say”….. yes, well you did six times so far!

In the late 1980s I started my own interior design company where I met clients who became friends and remain so to this day. It was one of the most exciting times in my life. I still mentally rearrange furniture, rehang pictures, change colour schemes and generally redecorate houses whenever I walk into a home. It can be quite disconcerting for those you visit, when your eyes dart back and forth, taking in all the décor  –  only later would someone say, “you had a very wild look that day”!

I met Brian on a blind date. He proposed, I accepted and three months later, there we were, walking down the aisle. The only vivid memory I have of that day was looking at the man standing next to me at the altar and thinking “My God, who are you? You could be on the FBI’s Most Wanted List!”  Ours was a stormy, exciting marriage from the start – his Scottish stubbornness and my inbred six-nationality South Africaness was an interesting combination to say the least. He is a great guy and, simply put, his home is his castle and his family his all.

I happened across Stanford in 1985. I drove into the village with a friend on a cold, wet October morning and literally fell in love.  Being a Sagittarian, I make decisions quickly. I said to my friend Gail “I am going to buy a house here”, to which she replied “Those hormones you started only kick in after six months – are you mad?!” We bought a holiday house that same day! Then we sold that and bought Galashiels Lodge in 1997. Having run The Fountainhead Guest House in Jo’burg for six years, it was just a matter of moving locations. I do what I love… how very lucky I am! I meet people from all walks of life and they enrich my life.

FH: You run the Pam Golding agency in Stanford. What’s it like to be responsible for a small country office for a “super brand” corporation?

JS: It is absolutely bloody marvellous. We are bound not only by the Estate Agency Board of conduct, but in a true belief that “There is no substitute for professional service, integrity and passion”. We have built our business on these principles, they are still the cornerstone of our success and why clients still chose the PGP brand. Guests who stayed here at the lodge were intrigued by my “Stanford Stories” and were caught up in the passion I have for where I live.  My guests became Stanfordians – how lucky are they? Later I started a small office operating from Galashiels and the rest is history.

FH: Your entire family has reunited in Stanford, on one big property around Galashiels Lodge, with your son and his family about to join you. What is that like? What’s it like having all your children and grand-children back in the heart of the family?

JS: In the words of my late great-grandmother, I “look like the wild woman from Borneo” – never quite in control. No more simple TV suppers for Brian and I.   No ways… 6 chickens, 3 dozen chops, a pocket of potatoes is what it takes to have a simple family supper. And because I am such a great cook, I have also become a sort of “Meals on Wheels” – when they are not eating at the Lodge, I take it to them! Blighter for punishment! Secretly, I just love cooking, especially love a challenge.  For example, when you have catered for six and you have 12 pitching up… But then I come from a huge family – Sunday lunches of not less than 12 around the table.

FH: If you don’t mind me saying so, Jill, you’re a popular figure and a hugely effervescent personality around the village. What is your personal experience of Stanford? What does it mean to you, what about our village gives you the most enjoyment and is there anything you miss about not living in a big city?

JS: Gee, Hatman, a girl could fall in love with you… forget what you have been told, flattery gets you everywhere! Getting to my bestest place in the world, where else can you walk Muffie at 12 pm at night along the banks of the bonny brae, where else can children ride their bikes without fear, where else would you be accosted with a huge butternut from someone’s garden – our villagers believe that “sharing is caring” – where else can you witness love in action?  Recently PGP was involved in a programme called “The Joy of Giving” and if you believe in Angels as I do, there are some seriously Big Angels in our midst. Giving  their time unstintingly without a wish for recognition.  They ran a workshops for kids in the 2010 June school break and as agents we donated lots of “goodie bags”. These same people collect money for the various charities and most people don’t even know their names. I know them now and I salute them.

This is what happens in Stanford. Look, there is always a little “gif appeltjie” (poisoned apple) in the bag but, by and large, we all get along just fine and its not the high calcium content in our water, it is the beauty of the place itself!

FH: What, in your opinion, makes our little village so special? And how would you describe it to, say, an old Jo’burg friend who had never been here?

JS: I have “sold” Stanford to a lot of Jo’burgers who have bought here. They all thought I was crazy – but then that has never surprised those who know me! – but after one visit, they were hooked. Sometimes, words can be cumbersome… I just take them for a stroll, visit the local eateries and pubs, take a dip in the river, watch fat, fluffy clouds tumble down the mountain, and words are superfluous… Some say it’s the ley lines which run through the village? I say it’s sheer MAGIC.

FH: Thank you, Jill!

*Should you be interested in looking at buying property in Stanford, please contact Jill by visiting this website.

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