A school cook dubbed ‘Dundee’s favourite dinner lady’ is retiring after serving generations of city families.
Elaine Cleary has worked for Tayside Contracts as a cook since March 1979 but now, nearly 42 years later, it is time to “down the rolling pin”.
After being made redundant she will finish her final shift at St Fergus Primary School today.
Elaine, 59, said: “When I was at school, I always liked cooking and then I left the school and went to the college and did my City and Guilds in catering.
“I had a few wee jobs but not in catering. I thought I’ll apply for the school meals and I got started there and I liked it ever since.
“I was 17 when I first started. My first school was Kirkton High as an assistant cook.”
Elaine then spent 10 years working in different schools in the citys before moving to Dens Road Primary where she spent 29 years.
She believes she cooked for three generations of families, before moving to Glebelands Primary where she stayed until December last year.
As well as her time cooking, Elaine was also a school cleaner for at least ten years and briefly spent time as a lollipop lady.
Elaine, said: “I’ve really enjoyed going round all the different schools, meeting different people.
“Dens Road was good. It was a sad day when I left there that’s for sure. I still keep up with teachers and staff at Dens Road. That was a big chunk of my life. Dens was a big happy family.”
Speaking about her experience over the last 41 years, she said: “There were kitchens that you really enjoyed, you met some really nice people.
“I liked the primaries and the girls that I worked with and everything, they were all very nice. I was really lucky, but the time has come to hang my hat up now and down the rolling pin.”
Over the years Elaine also picked up an award for Dundee’s favourite dinner lady.
She said: “Radio Tay had a competition where the kids voted for their favourite dinner lady and I was picked for Dundee. There was an award ceremony in the Caird Hall, so I got a certificate. It was a little boy who got it up and running in Dens Road for everybody who voted for me.”
Elaine, who doesn’t have any children, says the youngsters she cooked for became like family, she said: “You took some of them under your wing.
“I served some of the children from nursery, into the primary and then they left to go to secondary.
“The next thing they are back at the school with their own kids in the nursery.
“In March last year, a girl started in Glebelands and she said to me, ‘did you used to work in Dens Road?’
“I said yeah I was the cook there, and she said ‘you used to give me my dinner’, and she was 18. So I ended up her boss.
“I still see a lot of the kids – the butcher at the top of Caird Avenue, I used to give him his dinner.”
One former student even recognised her in a beer garden from her days at Kirkton High.
Dinner lady Elaine added: “It’s been good, I’ve enjoyed it. There has been times it’s been stressful and that but every job does get that.
“The changes have been unbelievable from when I started right up till now. Forty-two years, that’s quite a long time.
“The menus have changed, the healthy eating, paperwork, ordering has got computers now in the offices.
“In the kitchens, it’s all the mod cons, all equipment, it’s all state-of-the-art. Lot of changes.
“Even some of the utensils and everything that you were using, the tins, what you sent the meals out in and what you’ve got now, it’s all changed.
“We used to write orders down and phone in, now you are on computers doing it online.
“I will miss it. I think I’ll have a wee go at being retired and then see what’s what, if I’m not enjoying it. I think it would be better if I was able to travel because I like travelling.”
‘Such a big character’
Gary Conway, Facilities Business Manager at Tayside Contracts said: “During the near 42 year service, Elaine has been very popular with her work colleagues, school colleagues and pupils alike.
“With Elaine being such a big character and always made her cheery presence known, she will be missed by the many people she has worked with over the years.
“Elaine built up a wealth of experience over the years and has seen many changes as the school meals service has evolved.
“We wish Elaine the very best in whatever the future holds for her.”