A Wynberg Tribute to Ray Connellan

It was with a heavy heart that we were told the news that Ray Connellan had been diagnosed with terminal cancer six weeks ago. After phoning all his friends, it came as no surprise that he immediately booked two tickets so that he and Daphne could visit Bev, Howard and Tim and all his Grandchildren in the UK one last time. He loved his family unconditionally – they were his strength and his joy.

Ray was appointed as a Vice Principal at Wynberg in 1973. He remained at the school until his retirement in 1997 – after an outstanding and exceptional career in education. During this time, he rose to Senior Deputy Principal and ran the portfolios of Academics, Discipline and Prefects. He set systems in place in these portfolios which are still in use today.

He will be remembered as a strict but fair teacher. Every pupil knew where they stood with him and once they made up their minds that he was indeed on their side, then he would take them to the stars.

For twenty five years he taught Science. He remained convinced that every boy could do the subject and made it his life mission to ensure that all his pupils understood and enjoyed it. He would spend endless hours helping boys – willing them to appreciate Science and experience its delights.

He loved rugby. It was his passion and joy. He coached the first team for eleven years – and then the u14A for the remainder of his career. All players who were under his tutelage were taught that practice and hard work were everything – far more important than talent. He was enormously proud of the fact that in 1978, Wynberg beat Grey College – which was the only occasion in history that a Wynberg team has achieved that feat.

He was also a very successful and dedicated cricket coach. Although he never coached the first team, he accompanied many tours. He had an enviable ability to make players believe in themselves. I remember once listening to him talking to his u15A team during a break in a cricket match and things weren’t going well. He was on his shooting stick and the boys were sitting on the grass around him. ‘What makes you think that these boys are better than you are?’ he said. ‘They have two eyes just like you. Two arms. Two legs. Both sides are using the same type of cricket ball. The only difference is the level of commitment. Remember the rule: No-one is more committed than a Wynberg boy.’

Yet, he was teaching the boys more than rugby and sport. He was teaching them about life. An old boy of the 1970’s, Ricky Farrant, wrote last week: ‘I use the lessons that Ray taught me every day in my business life. He taught me an incredible amount about rugby but today I realise that it wasn’t just rugby he was teaching me – he was preparing me for adulthood and life after school.’

That is the ultimate accolade for any schoolmaster.

Another old boy who would like to remain anonymous, wrote this: ‘I was in Standard 7 and hated school and everyone in it. I was going up the stairs one day and Mr Connellan was standing at the top. I thought that I was going to get shouted at for being late / slow / long hair / shirt untucked. Instead, he greeted me by my first name and asked how I was doing. We had a one minute chat. I went on to class thinking that life can’t be that bad if the deputy headmaster knew my name and could spend time with me. Those few words changed my life around and I adopted a more positive approach to school. Three years later, I was a prefect.’

Just before he and Daphne left for his last trip to the UK, I went round to his house to show him the drawings which we had in mind to honour him. We are intending to create a scoreboard area, with a clock tower, benches and fynbos garden on the rugby field where he himself had nurtured so many young sportsmen. He was immensely appreciative of this gesture. Many old boys have promised to ensure that this will be a worthy tribute to honour him.

Ray was more than a rugby coach. He loved all sport – especially when Wynberg was playing. He and Daphne would be seen at every sporting endeavour where our boys were taking part. This included music and the plays. He supported every activity which involved a Wynberg boy. He was the role model for those of us who were the next generation coming through. We have much to emulate.

He will be remembered for his unflinching loyalty to all things Wynberg. A few days before he left for the UK, he was watching the lst XV rugby. He never missed a Saturday at the Oval during cricket season. He was the first to book his tickets for the annual Nussbaum Concert.

‘He made a huge impact on me,’ said a past Head Prefect, Karl Westvigg.

There are probably a few thousand Old Boys who can echo that sentiment.

He died on Sunday 9th June 2013 – three days after returning from overseas. He would have loved to have seen his beloved Wynberg team play SACS the day before. It was not to be.

Anton Gerber, an Old Boy from the 1970’s had this to say from Australia:

I told my son ..This man Ray changed my life and made me the man I am today.

Please, Keith, Please …. When you see Ray tell him .. I, Anton Gerber, say:

G,Day my friend. From Australia. Please do that for me .

Ray Connellan has made that sort of impact on thousands of lives.

A memorial service for Ray will be held on Friday, 14 June at 16h00 in Wynberg’s Clegg Hall

Keith Richardson