BA., Dip. Ed., P.G.C.E., AMBDA
11th September 1933 - 13th July 2008
Renee was born in Berlin, the first of three children, into a loving and close knit family. The Besag family was well established in Berlin and Baden-Baden, her father was of ancient Jewish descent, tracing ancestry back to the 15th century (although a Christian himself). He married Herta, from Silesia, Germany, whose family had a strong military and public service background.
After Hitler came to power, they were obliged to flee to the Netherlands and later, in 1939, to Australia. Renee’s father was able to continue his work as a consulting engineer for a short time before his death. Her mother then took various menial jobs to feed the three children before finding that she could work in her previous profession as a school teacher. She was appointed to a post in the very prestigious Melbourne Church of England Girl's Grammar School, eventually rising to the Head of Arts and Crafts.
From the very beginning of her school career Renee was an excellent scholar and, with much hard work and dedication, she was awarded a coveted scholarship to McRobertson Girl’s High School. On leaving school she followed in the footsteps of her mother and found her vocation in teaching, studying part time at Melbourne University for her B.A. in English. Renee had many great stories of her first teaching positions in the outback in 'Educational Priority Schools', ('slum schools') and 'Bush Schools', where the parents were regularly responsible for clearing the snakes out of the children's playground. She went on to take up a teaching position at Mount Scopus School, the largest private Jewish school in the Southern Hemisphere.
In 1960 Renee gained a scholarship to the Albert Schweitzer College in Switzerland where she studied philosophy, German and French. It was here that she met and fell in love with William. They married soon after college in 1962 and lived in North London, Crouch End/Muswell Hill, before moving to the Garden Suburbs.
Her interest in dyslexia began when Mark, her first child, was identified as having dyslexia. This little known condition meant that the search for a school which would address his specific needs was a long and tiring one. In order to gain a better understanding of dyslexia and help other children like her son, Renee began her post graduate studies in 1979 at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital's Dyslexia Unit, under the renowned Dr. Beve Hornsby.
After leaving she approached the ILEA to start a dyslexia unit at the primary school where she was the Deputy Head (Duncombe Infants Primary School in Islington). She was told that it would not be possible because it was not a recognised condition. This gave her the impetus she needed to start her own Hampstead Dyslexia Clinic and Centre for Learning Difficulties in the autumn of 1984.
The clinic evolved from one teacher, to a staff of 25 over the years, and Renee worked tirelessly, teaching children of all ages, as well as training the next generation of therapists with her wonderful skills of gentleness and enthusiasm. Her loving nature was known to all those who knew her, including of course; her husband, and her children, Mark, Delia and Raphaela, and her family and friends.
In her youth Renee also trained as a dancer in the Martha Graham tradition, as well as being an accomplished pianist and, to her great regret, a poor violinist. Another great joy was her piano accordion with which she often entertained her friends after dinner parties. She could sing in five languages, Russian and German songs being her particular favourites. Renee also had other creative gifts including painting, and a small folio of the most exquisite lyrical poetry. For those who knew her, there was another great love, the culinary arts. Renee was big 'foodie' enthusiast who loved cooking for her family and friends and enjoyed travelling abroad, to sample different cuisines, as well as experience different cultures. Brought up in a land of sportsmen Renee freely admitted that she was incredibly bad at sports – always the last. “I was always the last in every race but I always finished the race”, she would say.
Renee felt an incredible responsibility to give her all to those less fortunate than herself. She felt strongly about the injustices in society and made it a point not to 'sweat the small stuff'. A maxim was, not to let the behaviour of others to influence yours. Renee also had an incredibly strong relationship with God, which sustained her through her life, her work, the terrible loss of her beloved Raphaela and her years to the end.
'I've had a good life', she would always say, 'I have had my teaching, I have had my family beside me and I have lived to see my grandchildren and, most of all, I have been surrounded by love. For that I am so thankful'.
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" I went into your web-site and read the biography of your late mother Renee. I was interested to read of her Jewish ancestry.
I send you blessings. May you continue the work that Renee started and continue helping kids and adults overcome their difficulties."
- Fay Morris
"Ava is now thinking about what she can do and not what she can't and that really did start when we met you both and you started working with Ava. Ava now talks about wanting to be a writer, to do things, and she can laugh when she says, I know I can't spell but that's ok I will have an editor, I got her a dictaphone which she loves. She would never have been able to to that before, she was so low, so convinced she was stupid, she was so ashamed of anything she did but you both have given her something so special, love, confidence and a sense that she can be what ever she wants to be. You both are so committed and I can always feel how much you care., she cherishes your understanding, she needs your caring. You both are helping her find her strengths as different as they might be and she needs that so much."
- Suzanne, Ava's Mother (aged 9)