It came as somewhat of a shock when the news came through in September 2016 that Cecil Malan (whom I knew as Cecil Brewis) was not well. He had always seemed part of the structure of the building – ever present and solid. He joined the staff in 1992 in the tenure of Headmaster Rowan Algie, eventually ending up as caretaker, a post in which he served for over three decades. He was responsible for opening the school for the early arrivals at 6.00am and would reliably lock and alarm the school after the final event of the evening.
It was because of the lateness of his hours that in 1999 a section of the area below the old metalwork room (now the new Engineering and Design Faculty) was converted into a flatlet for his family. This arrangement was favourable to all parties – Brewis family and the school – and it certainly paid dividends on the night of the 2016 fire where he was able to raise the alarm and call the fire brigade. If the fire had not been caught in time, the damage would have gone way beyond the four classrooms which were destroyed.
Generations of schoolboys after rehearsals, as well as teachers and parents after a variety of functions, will recollect Cecil Brewis standing unobstrusively at one of the doors in the hall, suggestively rattling the school keys, which was his way of saying that that it was time that everyone went to bed. Before the advent of picking up the school admin system on my computer at home, I would frequently work late in my office. Often, he would wait for me, nodding off quietly on the couch in the foyer. He would fob off my protestations that I was more than capable of setting the alarm and locking the front door. I never worked out whether he was just being felicitous or whether he considered me to be totally untrustworthy.
Outsiders who rented the hall or the Fish Bowl would always remark how helpful and accommodating he was. All this was to his advantage of course, when at the end of the evening he would be invited to take home all the leftovers!
Cecil Brewis had a wicked and sharp sense of humour which endeared him to all as no malice was ever intended. Many were subjected to his chippy sense of humour. Boys who were in detention regarded it as a bonus if they were put onto his detail. They revelled in their status on the back of the trailer carrying rubbish bins to the collection area usually subjected to a steady volley of abuse at the other end: ‘Hey, White Boy, is that all you can carry?’
He loved talking to the boys and was always ready for a chat. He knew more pupil names than most teachers. Returning old boys would invariably be recognised and often greeted by name and a quip or two about some barely remembered escapade in which they had (supposedly) been involved. No matter what age they were, the old boys beamed – it was a recognised badge of honour to be remembered years later as ‘Reprobate of the Year’.
He was a loyal, cheerful and effervescent member of the support staff. He would regularly support the boys at sports fixtures where he doled out a steady stream of advice, mostly unsolicited and always amusing. He seldom missed a staff function and would always make a point of popping into my office on the following day to express his appreciation for the invitation.
His stroke [deleted text] in 2016 left him partially paralysed and unable to speak. He was invited [deleted text] to the Sunset Concertat the John Baxter Theatre in March 2017, an event that coincided with his birthday, where Larry Moser paid a worthy tribute to him. During the show I went to speak to him in his wheelchair under the palm trees. Unable to speak, he responded to my reminiscing with nods, smiles and the odd tear. He was one of the legends of Wynberg around whom our school is built. Our condolences go to his wife, Frances, his daughter Gillian, as well as his three stepsons.
He was a popular icon of Wynberg for many years who will undoubtedly be remembered by hundreds of Old Boys and teachers.
WBHS Headmaster (1999 – 2015)