My mother said that I was born "under the clock." However, at age five or six I left Kingston and went to live with my grandmother in a small village in northern St. Catherine called Troja where I went to primary school. After common entrance,
a I went back to Kingston where we lived on Norman Road, just below Melbourne Park. That was the reason why I went to KC. It was close to home.
At Melbourne, one of my most painfully memorable moments was when VP, Mr. Carlton Bruce, saw it fit to cane almost the entire second form because he felt that he had been "dissed" by a few boys who had the nerve to shout, "Bruce a come, Bruce a come" when he marched unto the field to break up a football game which had already gone two minutes into the after-lunch session. The guilty culprits ran off in all directions before Mr. Bruce could get a glimpse of their faces. So, canes in hand, he went from class to class and asked that the guilty identify themselves or be identified by the rest of us. That request resulted in dead silence in every class room. So using the maxim that "the good had to suffer for the bad," he caned over 200 boys that fateful afternoon. We got four lashes each. Now, for 2A and I guess for the other classes as well, there were three categories of lashes. The very bright boys, or big brains as we called them, got four light lashes. My good friends, Patrick Dallas and Clinton Watson, fell into that category. The known trouble makers, who had been caned before by Mr. Bruce for some transgression or the other, got four of the best ( I believe Maurice Weir and Richard Reid represented that group) and the rest of us got the regular four.
In those days, any boy who had the misfortune of being reported to Mr. Bruce by a teacher was guaranteed a caning. In English class one day, the teacher asked us to write an essay entitled, "What I would do if I won a million dollars." That was begging for trouble in itself. Frankie Eaton wrote that if he won a million dollars he would buy KC and fire the teacher. So, obviously, he was marched off to Mr. Bruce for his four.
At North Street, we fell under the penumbra of Douglas Forrest. (Dr. John Hall, in giving the toast to the school a few years ago at the Annual Reunion Dinner spoke eloquently of his "falling under the penumbra of Bishop Gibson"). By the time I got there Mr. Forrest's classical music appreciation classes were legendary and for the first time we were exposed to Bach, Mozart, Chopin and other composers. Dougs was also full of wit. On one occasion, he saw a group of us coming from the canteen at lunch time with Michael Hewitt, younger brother of Audley, lagging behind as usual. Dougs went to Michael and said, "Young man, if you walk any slower you are going to stop!"
I got involved in every thing at North Street. I joined the Cadet Corp and went on camps and hikes to the Blue Mountain Peak. The Camera Club instilled in me the love of photography and we all learnt how to use the darkroom equipment and develop our own pictures. With my love for the sciences, I was a member of the Science Club and went to a few science exhibitions at the National Arena. I was in the choir for a couple terms until my voice changed for the worse and I could sing neither alto nor bass. Several of us joined Peter Maxwell's book club in 3 rd form. Each week, we had to read a book from his collection and then give a report to the club. Michael 'Ratty' Edwards, Donovan Brown, Patrick Dallas were also in that club. It was a change from the English authors we were mandated to read in English Literature classes. In this club, we were introduced to great Caribbean writers like Naipaul and Braithwaite. A group of us from the book club also formed a club called, "Seekers" and put out a magazine of high school sporting facts in fourth form. We were seeking knowledge and the truth!
My favourite teachers were Joyce Baxter and Vin McKie. Miss Baxter, a brilliant and deeply respected teacher, taught us maths from second to fifth form. She was so brilliant that boys who could hardly complete a long division in second form were integrating and differentiating and passing 'O' level maths in fourth form and add maths in fifth. I was one of those. We once asked her what accounted for the academic brilliance of all the Baxter sisters. Her curt reply was that in her days there were no radios or televisions to distract them from their studies and in addition, they were not allowed to speak to boys like us!
Vin McKie, on the other hand, was irreverent and brash. He taught us biology in fifth form. From his many philosophical uttering, we guessed that he was an agnostic. One day just before the 'O'level exams, he invited us to extra lesson classes after school. Someone mentioned that a few of us could not attend as it clashed with our after-school BK classes being taught by Rev. Weevil Gordon. "BK, BK," he growled. "Are you saying that you would rather do BK than Biology?" He simply could not understand this apparent insanity. Later, I explained to him that he was such a good teacher and that we knew so much biology that we were bound to pass the 'O' level exam with flying colours. He still was not impressed. We made him proud anyway as almost the entire class passed his biology and several of us went on to do Zoology under the tutelage of another brilliant teacher, Mrs. Barber. Mr. McKie often spoke to us about Carlos Escoffery. "The most gifted student I ever taught," he often said.
I played lawn tennis with Richard Reid, Noel Williams, Burt Kedroe, Garfield Hall and others. We were trying to resurrect the game at KC after several years of dormancy. We struggled to keep up with the likes of Wolmers and STGC; but two years after I had left school, the team coached by Audley Hewitt and led by Williams and Hall won the Alexander Cup for the first time since 1958 when Audley himself was on the team.
During those years, I never missed a Manning Cup game at the stadium or a Sunlight Cup game in my back yard at Melbourne. We were also the main cheer leaders at Swimming Champs mainly because Patrick Chang, the most dominant schoolboy swimmer of the '70s, was in my class. Boys Champs was special. In those days, KC owned the Grand Stand at the stadium. In table tennis, we also were the undisputed champions and if there was a match in the Assembly Hall versus Calabar or Wolmers in particular, we had to walk with our chairs to be guaranteed a seat. Richard Stephenson was the exciting player of the day, but there were other warriors such as Winston Cowans, Wigmore Francis, Dennis Duncan and Junior Allwood.
In 1975, much to my surprise, I was elected Head boy. I did not even know that I was in the running until a group of my friends led by Frankie Eaton, Maurice Weir, Partick Dallas and Clinton Watson came to me and told me that they were going to be my campaign team as they were not comfortable with the apparent front runner. They must have done a good job because the following week, Rev. McNab announced in chapel that I had been elected head boy. It was a proud moment for me. I saw myself walking in the footsteps of stalwarts such as, John Hall, Peter Maxwell, Carlyle Dunkley, Gladwyn Kiddoe, Selbourne Goode, Rainford Wilks, Winston Stewart, Oliver Harrison, Ian Jackson and others. My fellow prefects called me 'Headman'- as far as they were concerned, we were no longer boys.
That year, we won the triple in football due to the dominance of players like Noel Rudd, Dave 'Pampi' Brown, Bally Reid, Michael 'Ratty' Edwards and others and the strategic brilliance of Coach George Thompson. I met the late Gresford Jones for the first time when he invited the entire football squad to his home for a pool-side celebration. I was also invited - head boy privilege.
A sad moment was when we lost Boys' Champs after fourteen years at the top. We mourned for months. How could we lose what was rightfully ours? Didn't the popular cheer say "Bring back Champs Cup to North Street it belonged to KC?" We had long discussions on the loss and cynics in the class claimed that the writing was on the wall from the previous year as it was evident that Calabar and JC were catching up. It was painful anyway and we all felt that we had let the entire KC family down.
After 'A' levels, even though I was accepted at UWI, I took a year off from studies and decided to work for a year. Mrs. Barber heard about it and invited me to join the staff to teach biology, which I did for a year. However, the following year, instead of going to UWI, I went to Hungary having obtained a government scholarship to study Veterinary Medicine. In Europe, I got the opportunity to travel over the entire continent, not only by train but also by hitchhiking.
In vet school, my classical music savvy Hungarian classmates, who were always going to concerts and the opera, were surprised that I could identify a Mozart or Handel being played on the radio. I would just look at them and say "KC, Dougs."
After graduating I returned to Jamaica and worked in Manchester as Parish Veterinary Officer until 1988 when I went to the University of London for post graduate studies. From 1990, I worked at the Veterinary Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture as senior veterinary officer and head of the Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory.
It was Hamlin Pagon, whom I had known since cadet days, who persuaded me to join the KCOBA in 1991. It seems he was doing some succession planning and wanted to groom someone to take over from him as secretary, which I eventually did. I served as secretary for about 6 years and also as VP in 2001-2002. In the early nineties, under Palmer's presidency, I coordinated the "Adopt a Form/ Mentoring Programme" at Melbourne. On some mornings, there were so many old boys there that teachers would complain that they could not find anywhere to park! In the early years it was a big success. Adrian Nembhard, head boy in 2001 and Centenary scholarship winner that year, spoke about the mentoring programme and the effect it had on him at both his graduation as valedictorian and at the Annual Reunion Dinner when he had to reply to the toast to the school. I served as secretary of the Trust Fund for about four years under the late Bruce Rickards and was PTA President from 2001-2002.
Last summer, as my wife and I were shopping downtown Toronto, we heard a voice calling out my name. We looked around and there was this youngster with this big purple smile on his face, who said "Fortis!" He introduced himself and said that he was an engineering student at Ryerson University in Toronto and that he had remembered me from the "Adopt a Form/Mentoring Programme" in the nineties at Melbourne.
Of course, my son went to KC from 1995-2002 and is now studying mathematics / actuarial science at Florida A &M University. At his prep school in Kingston in 1995 his teachers expressed surprise and were no doubt disappointment when he wrote KC on his common entrance form. When they questioned him about it, he told them that it was not a matter of debate. All his classmates went to Campion and Ardenne. Only two boys from the entire school went to KC, namely, himself and Sean Davis whose father and grandfather both went to KC. No debate there either. Leroux Lothian and Sean Mayne, both sons of old boys, came the following year.
In 2004, I migrated to Toronto to join my family who had been here for a few years. (I now work with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is the Canadian equivalent of the USDA.) Last year, I attended the Annual General Meeting of the Toronto Chapter for the first time and after being invited to give my opinion on a matter being discussed was most surprised to hear that I was the only person nominated for the VP position. I was elected despite my strong reservations that I had no Canadian experience. "We will make sure that you get it," the President said. I am gaining that now.
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