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Rie and her Gentlemen

Rie Schild-de Groen watched over ‘her’ Gentlemen, the residents of the ‘t Heerenhoeckje (Gentlemen’s Corner) Minerva house at Rapenburg 110, like a mother hen for 70 years. She was moved by the stories of residents who had lost loved ones to cancer. Jaap Koster and a few other former housemates helped set up her cancer research fund.

This article previously appeared in Leidraad, Leiden University’s free alumni magazine. Read the magazine online

Jaap Koster: ‘I studied law and lived at ‘t Heerenhoeckje from 1978 to 1983. Our house had a very unique culture and that was thanks in part to our Rie. She cleaned there from 1947, for a period of 70 years. She was one of us and we had a great deal of respect for her.

‘Five days a week we had a sacred ritual: a cup of coffee with Rie at 9:30. All the Gentlemen had to be present, even if you had just gone to bed. If you were late, she would come into your room and splash ammonia on your bed. Women who had stayed over were not allowed to join us. They had to stay in bed or Rie would send them packing.

‘During the coffee Rie always asked about our grades and would give you a dressing-down if weren’t doing well. She never let anyone get the better of her – not even by Prince Willem-Alexander, who lived a few doors away. She put him firmly in his place.

‘But Rie was always in for a bit of fun. On her birthday she treated everyone to a beer with the coffee; we cracked open the beer at 9:30 and she joined in. She had a good eye for people and soon saw if one of us was having difficulties and would give him extra attention. She hadn’t been able to study, but found research really important and was very fond of the University. Her husband worked at the – now defunct – Faculty of Geology. All these factors together must have got her thinking about leaving her money for research.’

Supporting research

‘Long after she had stopped cleaning, Rie often came to Rap 110 for a cup of coffee, even when she was over 90. I still saw her at the annual dinner with former housemates, which she obviously always attended. It was at one of these dinners that Rie, who didn’t have children, told us she wanted to leave her money to cancer research. She had lived a frugal life and that together with equity in her house meant she would leave a substantial sum. She wanted to use it to fight cancer. The stories of former residents who had lost loved ones had deeply affected her. Rie thought it was particularly important to support the research of young Leiden researchers in the field of cancer.

‘She asked the wife of a former housemate, a lawyer, to be the executor of her estate. I’m a lawyer too and together with a few other former housemates helped set up a named fund via the LUF. Rie died in 2017 at the age of 94. At the end of 2019, many residents, former residents and the LUF marked the establishment of the Schild-de Groen Fund at a celebration in the Academy Building. I know Rie would have been proud as Punch.’

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