Those of us from the 1950’s and 1960’s will surely remember KC’s groundskeeper, Christopher Francis affectionately known as “Christie,” wearing his trademark helmet or bowler-hat. During this era, we won our fair share of inter-school trophies and in the process produced individuals who went on to represent not only Jamaica but also the West Indies, sometimes at world-level competitions.
These achievers got an early start at competition because someone did the dirty work; accurately measured and marked off distances and lanes for track and field events; accurately marked out tennis courts and soccer fields—penalty area, penalty spot; carefully prepared the cricket pitch with accurate bowling length and accurate bowling crease.
Christie represented all of this and more, especially when cheering his teams from the sidelines or from the old pavilion. Because of his attention to detail, individuals could legitimately claim success in order to move on from inter-house to inter-school competition and beyond.
When winning team pictures were taken, I often felt that Christie should have been included with the coaches and others who shared the credit.
If a footballer’s stitching was damaged, Christie applied his shoemaker’s skills to repair it or he would patch a punctured bladder. He could similarly help if your bicycle had a flat tire, so you could get home. If you damaged your “good” shoes from playing football at lunch time, instead of wearing your “GB,” Christie would repair it for a small fee before you went home, so as not to upset your parents.
After Saturday classes, you could get cricket gear for a few hours of “bowl-for-bat.” Not many people knew that this was exactly how the legendary Gordon O’Neil “Collie” Smith got his start—in short pants—to get onto the “First XI” Sunlight Cup Cricket team.
And who could forget Christie’s models of the Holy Trinity Cathedral and the main building of the school? They were pieces of art made from unorthodox materials with unorthodox tools, by someone without any formal training. I wonder what became of them.
Christie may not have been a student of history or calculus, but he could always engage you in a philosophical discussion--whether it was about Marcus Garvey or society’s rights and wrongs. You did not allow classroom education to interfere with an opportunity to also learn from outside the classroom.
One day in the year 1945, I am seated in what was then form 5A on the upper floor while the headmaster (“Priest”) is taking the class. We are distracted by Christie’s shouts on the playing field and the antics of the female donkey, Joycie. Christie is trying in vain to harness Joycie in order to roll the cricket pitch. He gives up in disgust and comes directly to the boss (“Priest’) to complain—never mind that the boss is conducting a class.
“What is the matter, Francis,” asks the boss who has been interrupted. “The donkey want Jack, sah.” At this the whole of form 5A erupts in total and uncontrolled laughter.
Christie, wherever you are, FORTIS!
Neville “Mussie” Gray
Class of 1947
Editor’s note: Christie served KC faithfully for over 50 years and at his retirement a class was named in his honor.