Ivan ‘Wally’ Johnson spent almost his entire life at KC. He was a student from 1950 to 1955, took a hiatus to attend university in England and returned as a teacher in the 1965. After that he never left until he finally retired in 2006. During his tenure at KC he was an incomparable combination of teacher, sports master, coach, advisor, vice principal, acting principal, principal, friend, father, mentor and much more.
Our paths first crossed when I was in second form. As sports master, Mr. Jonno as he was affectionately called, would come over from North Street to Melbourne to assist in organizing the inter-house cricket competition and other sport events. I recall that after the inter-house cricket competition had ended he invited those of us who felt that we had some cricketing talent to try out for KC’s Under 13 Cricket Squad. As a country boy who played nothing but cricket in my pre-KC days I eagerly went out for the trials which were watched by the keen eyes of Mr. Jonno, who somehow was the sole selector, arbitrator and umpire. Unfortunately, I impressed him neither with the bat nor with the ball and he told me that he did not think that I was good enough to be considered for the KC Under 13 Cricket Squad. I was shattered; he was unmoved. Decades later I jokingly reminded him about his blatant, misguided and ill-advised disregard of my cricketing ability, to which he said, “That was thirty years ago and you still remember it!” I retorted that all KC boys had long memories. He had no choice but to agree.
When I made the transition from Little KC to Big KC I realized that the North Street campus was really Mr. Jonno’s domain. He seemed to be in charge of everything. One day he is seen supervising the marking of the field for a football game and the next day he is observed chauffeuring boys to another school for a cricket or football or table tennis game or to JBC for a quiz match. All this time he is not only sports master but a senior teacher with a full teaching schedule. He was constantly on the go giving the impression that everything he had to do was urgent and had to be done immediately. When I was in third or fourth form, Douglas Forest once postulated that one of my classmates walked so slowly that if he walked any slower he would stop. My observation was that if Wally walked any faster he would break out into a trot. In those days he was never seen without his cigarette. Maybe smoking had a calming effect on him and soothed his nerves; after all he had to deal with hundreds of students on a daily basis, including some very unruly ones.
One also got the feeling that Wally knew the name of every KC boy who attended the College from the 1950s up to the time he retired. As such he was an invaluable member of Anthony Johnson’s support group which gathered on a regular basis to help with the details required for Anthony’s seminal book, ‘The History of KC’. During his time at KC, Wally certainly knew all the athletes and their statistics. I am sure that he knew what times Lennox Miller ran in the 100 yards in his many appearances at Champs and that he could recall Trevor Campbell’s times over his long track career and Bally Reid’s times in the 100 meters a decade after Miller. And it was not just for sports that he had a vast memory, as I am sure that he could name all the major KC scholarship winners from Burgess who won KC’s first major scholarship, the Issa Scholarship in the 1930s to Ashman who won the Jamaica Scholarship in 2005.
When I was on the magazine committee in 6th form his colleague Peter Maxwell was the teacher advisor to the committee and one can say that Mr. Jonno was his deputy. In fact, in those days Mr. Jonno was the scribe who year after year penned the immensely popular Ras Clovellia article for the school magazine. For those unfamiliar with Ras Clovellia, it was a brilliantly written and an intriguing must read article in the school magazine which highlighted in absorbing scripture-like prose the fortunes, and misfortunes, of KC over the previous year.
Only a few years ago Wally challenged some of us to come up with an answer to something that he claimed had bothered him during his tenure at KC. His burning question was, “Why is it that KC boys feel that they should win every competition that they enter and are shattered if they lose?” When he asked me that question I answered that it was people like himself, Foggy Burrows, Frances Coke, George Thompson and many others who had instilled that “we will not lose” mentality in the minds and hearts of generations of KC boys. He thought that my answer was too simple and that the question needed further analysis and research. I told him that I was convinced that I was right and that no further analysis was necessary.
I got to know Wally better during my son’s tenure at KC from 1995 to 2002. In those days he was still walking very fast but I am not sure if he was still smoking. I probably spoke to him on a weekly basis during those years. On many occasions I heard him screaming at boys, “Why are you determined to mash up Bishop Gibson’s school!” To others he shouted, “Get that earring out of your ear immediately!” Sometimes I would go over and tell him that he should watch his blood pressure and he would try to explain to me that things were different than in my student days. As acting principal and later principal, he still found time to be involved in all aspects of school life. I recall that he seldom missed a PTA general meeting in the Chapel or an executive meeting in the Board Room. He would show up for these meetings despite the fact that he had more pressing matters to deal with. Sometimes we in the PTA would jokingly refer to him as one of the few and constant Ts in the PTA. It was obvious that he felt that organizations like the PTA were important for the proper running of the school. He would turn up at Saturday morning leadership seminars put on by the PTA for 6th formers and would engage the senior boys in discussions on what it meant to be a leader and the different leadership styles that he had observed in prefects and headboys over the decades. He once said that as a senior teacher in the 70s he was totally caught off guard when a group of boys in my year orchestrated and led a successful boycott of the canteen for a few days. It should not be surprising to know that one of the students who led that canteen boycott became one of Wally’s lifelong friends.
Wally’s wit was legendary and it seemed that although his first love was art, in which he had a university degree, he was born to be a teacher of literature because he never missed an opportunity to use a sharp pun and he could also find humor in almost any situation. In June one year when he was due to retire (for the first time!) the teachers and students pooled together and bought him a beautiful mahogany book-shelf which was presented to him during the end of term assembly in the Chapel on what was supposed to be his last day at KC and his last day as principal. Later that evening when I turned up to attend a meeting at North Street he asked me to transport the book-shelf to his home in the back of my pick-up truck. So we gathered a few boys to load it into the pick-up and it was delivered to his home off the Constant Spring Road. In September however, the Ministry of Education asked him to return for another year. When I saw him at North Street a few days after the new school year had begun, with a sly grin on his face he approached me and said, “Laza, de bway dem sey dem want back dem book-shelf, yu think mi should give it back?” That was typical Wally.
Wally never taught me, neither did he coach me, but I will remember him as teacher, sports master, coach, historian, principal and friend. He was a true KC icon. May his soul rest in peace.