Mr Richardson’s Speech at the Old Boys’ Dinner – Wynberg Radio

Wynberg Boys' High School Keith Richardson's Old Boys' Dinner Speech

Listen to Wynberg Radio’s podcast of Mr Richardson’s Speech to the Old Boys’ Union at the Annual Dinner on Wednesday 26 August 2015; the speech was the last time Mr Richardson would address ‘his Old Boys’ as Headmaster of Wynberg before retiring in December. deputy Headmaster, Mr Larry Moser, introduced Mr Richardson to the audience, in what we’ve termed “The Larry’s Berg Address” – click the red play button below:

Transcription of the audio file below:

“There are times when things go really well as a headmaster and when that happens, there are always the boys to bring you back to earth.  ‘What do really do?’ a boy asked me in my office some time back.  It is a question many boys and teachers would like answered.

Teachers also bring one down to earth.  Chris Merrington recently bumped into Eric Lefson, coach of our first team cricket. ‘Who is the guest speaker at the dinner?’ Eric asked and when told that the Old Boys would be saying goodbye to me, said ‘It should have happened years ago.

Then the Old Boys got in the act. I was at a birthday party last week when I bumped into Murray Bing who was also there.  ‘I would like to come to the Old Boys’ Dinner to hear you speak,’ he announced to me cheerfully, ‘but I have asked for a 25% discount.  That is 5% off for every year that I have had to listen to your assemblies.’

I didn’t know how to take that – except to apologise to all of you who have had to pay full price tonight.  Maybe that is the penalty you pay for not having to listen to five years of my assemblies….

I started teaching 41 years ago at Wynberg.  To put that into perspective, I have been involved in some way or other with anyone in this hall who is under the age of 58.  What a humbling thought that is.

There have been huge changes at this school since 1975.

  • The fee for the matrics to join the Old Boys’ Union as a life-member was R12.  I am only a Latin teacher so I am not able to work out what that is as a percentage  increase – but I can work it out for the class of 1990 who is here tonight celebrating their 25 reunion.  In 1990, you paid R75 to join and in 2015 it is R750 – even I can work out that in 25 years it has gone up ten times.  I wonder how many of your incomes have gone up ten times in the last 25 years?
  • School fees in 1975 were R17 a term – or R68 a year. 41 years later, they are R35 000 a year.
  • Some of you – not of course any of that cohort below the age of 58 because you never went into pubs while at school – may remember Rogue Beer. At the Pig and Whistle, Neil Crawford, Roy Hewett and myself as hostel teachers, used to pop by there to relax from the rigours of Littlewood because you could buy five Rogue Beers for a Rand.  We couldn’t afford a Castle – that was exorbitant at 40c.  Today, a Castle is about R20 in a pub – although you can get it far cheaper in the Bill Bowden of course.

Neil and I always used to go to the Pig.  We didn’t dare risk the Old Standard down here in Wynberg as we had a very good chance of running into some of the boarders! Sam Meany. David Eyre. Ian Stacey. Allan Askew.

  • Even bunking out from the boarding house has changed over the years. I was with Mike Smit and Albert Questeaux a few weeks back who told me how they used to bunk out after lights out to go to the Capitol in Wynberg to see the latest movies. The trick was to buy the tickets beforehand so that you could sneak into the back row after the lights were dimmed in case there were teachers or parents who might recognise you.  Imagine their surprise one night at a particularly popular movie when the lights came on and they saw row upon of row of boarders all of whom had the same idea and were looking around furtively to see if there was anyone of authority around.

I am sure that Roland Rudd, as the current superintendent of the hostel, is taking notes….

The film brigade nearly came a cropper one on one occasion because, stupidly, they commissioned Mike Smith to buy the tickets on the afternoon before they wanted to go.  He came to school the next day with the tickets clearly visible in his shirt pocket.  Tim Huysamen, Afrikaans teacher and hostel master, saw the incriminating evidence during the Afrikaans period and asked to see the tickets.  ‘Oh,’ said Mike airily, ‘they are just some film tickets for Saturday afternoon.’

‘Let me see,’ said the Voice of Authority. And then:  ‘But it says Thursday night here.’

No-one must ever tell me that Mike Smit is slow.  ‘What??’ Mike says feigning righteous indignation. ‘Those guys down at the movie house are complete idiots.  I told them Saturday afternoon!  Now what am I going to do – I am going to have to pay everyone back.’  Tim felt so sorry for him, that he let them all go to the movies that night!

Now when the boarders bunk out, it is well after midnight so that they can enjoy a few lemonades at Jug night at Springboks or the Strawberry Licks at Tiger Tiger.  If you don’t know what all that is about, you are probably over the age of 28.

  • Talking about boarders, how about those Sunday night pillow fights when the prefects were having their weekly meeting downstairs? Not only pillows of course, but pillows fortified with rugby boots and cricket balls.  Now if you  do that, it will make front page of the Argus and it will become part of a chat show on Radio 567 as folk phone in saying how bullying is endemic at schools like this.

Apparently the trick in the 1970’s was to go into a darkened room after lights out and mill the chap in the nearest bed and then flee.  The assaulted individual had, of course, no idea who it was, but proceeded to take his vengeance out on any boy in any dorm whom he vaguely suspected of perpetrating the deed. You have all been at Wynberg and can all predict the mayhem which subsequently resulted.

Who of the Littlewood era of the early 70’s remembers the story of Steven Whatmore who was knocked clean out by a fortified pillow in one of these escapades? Mr Blackbeard came charging up at the noise to find every boy supposedly asleep in his room and one semi-comatose Steven lying in the corridor. He went into one of the rooms to find a boy sleeping on the floor.  Apparently, while the raid was on, this boy’s bed had been pushed up on its side against the wall and he came running back and, in the dark, jumped back to where he naturally presumed his bed would be.  No such luck and he collapsed into a groaning heap on the floor.  It didn’t take long for Blackbeard to sum up the situation. He summoned one of the hostel masters, Jim Slater, and between the two of them, they gave every hostel boy a hiding.  Mike Smit, though, is still sorely aggrieved because the semi-conscious Steven Whatmore was not given a hiding – and he was one of the instigators.

Get over it Mike – it was over forty years ago.  What chance of reconciliation in South Africa  if you can’t get over a pillow fight from your school days??

  • Tablet taking has changed too. In 1975, you were given a disprin for every ailment by Sister de Klerk.  Nowadays, you are given a Ritalin or Concerta for every ailment.  All have the same effect, I think, and that is to ensure that you snooze quietly in class.  The only difference is that you now have to take out a second bond to pay for modern medication…
  • Of course, tablet has a different connotation these days in that all boys now have their own electronic tablets which come with somewhat different and interesting challenges – but this is not the occasion to discuss these issues as it will just confuse those over 58.
  • A fight in 1975 usually ended up with the two protagonists shaking hands and invariably ending up as buddies. Today, the parents would probably charge the other one with assault and intent to do grievous bodily (which I suspect they were endeavouring to do).  Both will have to go on anger management courses and the school will have to institute anti-bullying programmes.

Clearly changes have been seen by others.  Denis Herbstein, who is based in London, sent me this email a few weeks ago:  I hear that you are retiring so I want to wish you all the best.  My wife and I were so impressed by the school when we were in Cape Town for the sixty-year leavers get-together two years ago. I’m forever harking back to my years at Wynberg but the school in those days was in something like a standard two stage when compared to today. When I saw the quality of academics, and sport and the Nussbaum Musical evening, then I realised that the school had now reached matric stage.  I look forward to your successor taking it up to International Baccalaureat stage.

So there is pressure for you, Jan de Waal.

When I arrived at Littlewood the day before school started in January 1975, I think I had not yet started to shave.  Can you imagine the trauma of a downy cheeked individual having to stand up to the bruisers of Littlewood – most of whom had full on beards and some even had their wife and kids visit them over weekends?  Sam Meany. David Eyre. Ian Stacey. Allan Askew.  These bruisers were enough to terrify any new staff member – let alone new standard sixes.

Life has an interesting of making sure what goes around comes around. Allan Askew’s son now teaches at Wynberg – so for the last two years I have picked on him unmercifully.  Daily break duties, regular Saturday detention duties, and all bottom sets.

Shortly before our first supper on that night, I came across one of the new Standard 6’s (or Grade 8 if you are under 32).  He was crying and highly traumatised by the fact that one of the big boys had threatened to hang him out of the window by his ankles that night.  I – foolishly as it turned out – enquired of him who this big boy was and he duly pointed out the offending individual to me.  Feeling somewhat under pressure to assert myself, I went up to him and asked him whether this intimidation was correct.

‘And who are you?’ said David Eyre, looking me up and down with disdain.

‘I am the new teacher here,’ I said proudly.

‘Now listen here,’ he said to me prodding me firmly in the chest with two fingers.  It was somewhat painful but I felt that it was quite important for my image that I did not react. ‘In this place, WE run the hostel and YOUR job is to ring the bells.’

That was my introduction to Wynberg.  If you had told me on that night that I would be standing here 41 years later, I would have advised you to take a few of Sister’s disprins and go for a lie-down.

In spite of that inauspicious start, I grew to love Wynberg.  I enjoy the boys.  I thrive on their energy.  I admire their tenacity.  Wynberg boys are down to earth, loyal, friendly young men.

Nothing sums up the school more than a comment made to me in the 1980’s by Chris Stone who later became a very good friend.  He was the Rondebosch professional cricket coach and one Saturday when we arrived for a cricket game, he said half jokingly. ‘Oh, no!  Not Wynberg. I hate playing you chaps – you never seem to know when you are beaten.’

I would like to think that not much has changed since then!

By my second year of teaching –  I think I was now shaving – but it made little difference to how I was viewed.  I took a hockey tour to the Transvaal  (Gauteng to those under 32) and part of our tour was a bus trip to the Kruger Park.  We arrived at one of the camps where a guide was waiting for our bus.  I was first off the bus followed by the captain, Chris Hyland.  The guide nodded at me when I greeted him and then shook Chris by the hand welcoming him to the park.  He then proceeded to tell Chris the arrangements for the day clearly thinking that he was the teacher in charge.

Chris was obviously not as quick thinking as Mike Smit because Mike would have suggested that the two of them should pop into the restaurant pub for some of the landlord’s finest.

There is just no chance to get swollen head in teaching!

I am pleased to report finally, that the following year I proudly grew a beard.  The boys promptly called me Bushpig – so I shaved it off.

The Old Boys’ dinner in my first year was also interesting.  Fritz Bing took it upon himself to introduce me to all his mates at the dinner that year which was at the Mount Nelson.  However, once he knew I was a Latin teacher, he insisted on introducing me to everyone as the ‘Junior Gloom’.  For those under 70, Gloom was a Latin teacher at Wynberg for about twenty years.  Apparently his name matched his lessons and Fritz, without any definitive evidence to back up what he was saying, assured everyone that my lessons were not dissimilar.

I am pleased to report that that nickname did not stick – and that I have barely spoken to Fritz since then!

I am often asked to give the highlight of my teaching career.  There is no doubt as to my answer to that one.  It is the people I have met.  I have worked with some outstanding and dedicated teachers.  I have become friends that a vast number of old boys of all ages.  The same can be said about so many parents of boys I have worked with – especially those parents of tours I have taken away or worked with in some Governing Body committee or other.

If I have achieved any success in my time at the school, it has been because of the fact that I have stood on the shoulders of the giants before me.

My first headmaster was Neville Blackbeard who ran a tight ship – both for boys and teachers. From him I learnt the necessity of meeting deadlines.  As a young teacher, straight from University, I had always thought that deadlines were merely suggestions.  Whoever stuck to a deadline for an essay at university?   I was soon put right on that one.

My second headmaster was at Plumstead – Gordon Law.  He ran as tight a ship as Mr Blackbeard and it was not long before he was hauling me over the coals for my dress.  ‘That brown suit will have to go,’ he said.  ‘It has definitely seen better days.’  I looked at it incredulously – what on earth was wrong with it?  After all, I had worn it every day at Wynberg for four years.  Some of you might even recollect it.

Teachers are young executives,’ he said. ‘Dress appropriately.  Buy some new suits.  AND….  Make sure your socks match from now on!’

So the brown suit was dispatched and I splashed out with a light grey one which incidently my wife only recently chucked out.

Jim Matthews was retiring in 1984 and Ray Connellan proposed to the new head, Rowan Algie, that I be appointed as vice principal.  I was invited for a chat and a cup of coffee with Rowan and the chairman of the board, Henry Cawood.  A few minutes of chatter – and I had the job.

It certainly can’t be done like that today.  Posts have to be advertised; candidates go through a formal interview process before a panel – normally including trade unions to ensure that no shenanigans take place similar to what happened at Henry Cawood’s house….

To the day he died, Ray Connellan never ceased to remind me that he was personally responsible for my career in educational leadership.

Rowan Algie was an outstanding headmaster. He gave breadth and vision to Wynberg.  He instituted the principle of the four pillars – academic, culture, sport and service – which underpins all we do thirty years later.   He was full of ideas and in my view much of the success of the school today can be traced back to what he initiated.  His wife, Rose, loved gardening and the trees whose shade we enjoy today were planted by her.  That is an apt metaphor for what Rowan did in his tenure.

As is only correct, Bruce Probyn built on what had gone before and took the school to another level.  He was a superb public speaker and sold the school well to the public and we started attracting more quality boys from surrounding junior schools.  He was helped immeasurably by his two deputies, Ray Connellan and Kobus Blom –  and between the three of them, they put in 71 years to Wynberg.  They were legendary in their determination to keep up standards.  The new history of Wynberg, called Brothers in an Endless Chain, has just been completed and all three feature prominently  in its pages.

There were many young teachers who owe much to Ray Connellan.  He took a personal interest in us and it is no coincidence that future principals Neil Crawford, Roy Hewett, Jannie de Waal, Mike Harris, Freddie van Vuuren, Brian Ingpen, all emerged from this era on the Wynberg staff to go on to run schools.

I took over Wynberg in 1999.  It was steeped in tradition, rich in quality teachers, with a proud and enviable record is many areas of school life. All I had to do was stand on the shoulders of the giants before me.

You may remember that Jake White was involved with our rugby coaching.  It was in my first year.  His boys were at the Junior School and his wife was teaching there.  We set him off on his coaching career because he was then poached from us by the Sharks and from there he went on to win a World Cup with the Springboks.  We had many interesting chats on the side of various fields and he stressed one point to me and that was that all great teams and institutions had a slogan which they repeated over and over again.  One only has to think of the 1995 Springboks with their One Team One Nation slogan to see his point.

‘Sex up your motto’, he said. ‘Overcome difficulties is not very inspiring – surely you can find something more catchy?’

We set to work and discussed  at length with the boys about what slogan would reflect ‘resilience’ which is what Supera Moras really stands for and so ‘Never Give up’ was born.  Taking his advice, we put it onto posters, into programmes and hardly a speech was said from stage where Never Give Up or Supera Moras was not incorporated into the final sentence.

It has been amazing how, over the last 17 years, this has been part of the DNA of boys of Wynberg.  They use it to encourage one another when times are tough on the field of play as well as in aspects of life.  I even heard it said by an old boy playing in the second team hockey against the school yesterday when they were 0 – 3 down.  They fought back to 4 – 4!

I received recently from one of last year’s matrics, Rob Cooke, who is currently doing a Gap Year at an Australian school.  It was basically to wish the school well for Founders’ Week but he adds:  I am helping to coach the hockey firsts, but they not doing too well but the team seem to have caught on to Supera Moras and I had one boy shouting it on the field to the rest of the team, was nice to hear and brought me back to my Wynberg days. 

Good to know that Wynberg is assisting Australian sport.  Maybe we will even hear it being shouted out at the Rugby World Cup from the Aussie players on the field!

Experts say that schools should be teaching skills for the 21st Century.  One of the most important skills is resilience and I would like to think that we are producing young South Africans who will make a difference because we have hammered this home.

Certainly our 1st teams in rugby and hockey have had to learn this the hard way this year as they have had character building seasons!

Collaboration and working together is the second of the 21st Century skills.  Arguably this is what we have tried to do more than anything else over the last twenty years.  Our House and Tutor structures, aided by a revamped prefect system, gives boys from all backgrounds and cultures the opportunity to learn to work together.  That is our contribution to South Africa. Learning to work together and to appreciate that we all have different abilities and that every boy adds value to the school in his own way, sets the foundation for building true transformation.

We do not pay lip service to transformation here.  We live it in the classroom and on the sportsfields.

There is one aspect where we have not transformed.  We have striven to make it part of our school culture that Wynberg boys are friendly, well mannered, proud of their uniform and always aim high. That is what differentiates us.

Gentlemen, please permit me to boast just this once tonight.  I receive many emails every day, but when one came in last week from a SACS old boy, then I must sit up and take notice.  I will read it out verbatim:

‘I am a local that lives in the neighbourhood and I just wanted to drop you a line to let you know how impressed I have been from the behaviour of your students in general. Every time I have come across a Wynberg Man, whether I’m walking my dog or driving out of my driveway, they are well dressed and presentable, but most importantly polite and will always greet me with a smile and say “Hello, sir.” My wife has had similar experiences.

I understand the challenges of keeping discipline and maintaining tradition in a large school like Wynberg, and how easily it can erode if it is not a core focus.                                                                                                                    

I can assure you, coming from a long lineage of SACS men and having played Wynberg in Rugby and Water Polo for my entire school career, it took me many months to pluck up the courage to contact you.’

Alan Footman, as Chairman of SACS Old Boys, please tell Paul Lamont that his email was read out to 400 appreciative Wynberg Old Boys.

You might be like to know what are regarded as the other essential 21st Century skills:

Communication which is why we stress debating / drama and the like.

Thinking and Research skills which is why we are encouraging a totally new approach to classroom teaching.

Self management skills which is so obvious in everything we do at this school right from Grade 8.

Gentlemen, I will never forget the moment when Val Sutcliffe, the front of house secretary at the school rang me to tell me I had a teaching job at Wynberg 42 years ago. ‘Welcome aboard,’ she said. ‘We are so pleased that you are on our staff.’

Well, I am not sure if that sentiment is still echoed in the front office, but like the Nissan advert says, it has been a good ride.  I have enjoyed the journey.

To the Old Boys’ Union – thank you for your support and friendship over the years. I have worked with this quality people during this time who have always acted solely with the school’s interest at heart.

At the end of this year, it will be time to hand over to Jannie de Waal who takes over a very exciting stage in the school’s history as it approaches the 175th year since John McNaughton opened the doors of the school.  The preparations are in full swing and our aim is to ‘reconnect the links of the endless chain’ which, as you know, is a line in the school song.  Our aim is to persuade as many old boys as possible to come back to the school for at least one event during the year.

We have also sent our 175 Flag around the world. The Flag is now heading to Orlando, Florida (from the Bahamas) where it will head up the Eastern Seaboard to Toronto. If anyone knows of an old boy anywhere in the world who would like to arrange a get-together of like-minded old boys, please let us know and we will send the flag to him.

There are also slips on the tables telling you all about the celebrations next year.  Hopefully, you too, will be able to reconnect those links.

I would like to conclude by quoting from what Ray Connellan said in his farewell speech to parents, teachers and old boys in 1998.  Those of you who knew Ray can hear him say this: ‘It is said that you can take a person out of Wynberg but it is difficult to take Wynberg out of a person.  I tell you now that it is impossible to take Wynberg out of me.’

I can buy that.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, many of its parts were kept in an open air museum on the Muhlenstrasse. When the Wall fell, the panels were covered with graffiti.  One graffito on a panel reads:  ‘Many small people in many small places and many small ways contribute to making the world a better place.’

I hope that my contribution, together with hundreds of those who have gone before me, has helped to make Wynberg a better place.

There are a number in this hall who have had the privilege of studying Latin in your day.  You will understand the words ‘Floreat Wynberg’ and will note with interest that I have used the jussive subjunctive to indicate energy:  ‘May Wynberg Flourish’.

I know it will.  It has been a privilege to lead one of South Africa’s great schools.”

KCR, 26 August, 2015