For me, Peter Maxwell was one member of a phenomenal group of English Language and English Literature teachers who guided Kingston College students in the intellectually exciting and memorable years of the 1970s. That group took College men into maturity, instilling in us a sense of social and personal responsibility, gentlemanly instincts and sensitivity to the concerns of others. I remember Peter Maxwell, the KC Headboy, the teacher, and the writer, as an exemplar of excellence. He was always willing to guide us, whether it was with the Magazine Committee, for which he served as staff advisor for years, as calm, quiet critic of adolescent exuberance, or as the understanding and quick-witted analyst of Shakespeare.
As a teenager, I would pass his classes in session and pause by the window just to watch a master teacher in action – always, I would note the glistening eyes of both teacher and students, as the precision and beauty of language, the power of words, and the immense joy of literary rhythm worked their magic throughout the classroom. Indeed, the infectious mood of enthusiasm in Peter Maxwell’s classes would naturally flow beyond the classroom door. So, for example, those from the other classes learnt, by word of mouth from enthusiasts of Mr. Maxwell’s group, about his sense of whimsy via Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky:
“Twas brillig, and the slithy toves. Did gyre and gimble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves. And the mome raths outgrabbe.”
Make of that what you will, but for a certain generation of KC boys, it will always be wrapped up with fond recollections of Peter Maxwell.
Even in the KC days, Peter Maxwell’s sense of social responsibility went beyond the walls of the College. Using the nom de plume Marcus, he wrote a column in The Star newspaper mainly about poor conditions in police lock-ups, and especially in lock-ups for children. His was a campaign that helped to inspire many KC boys to play our part in social activism in later years. And I well recall that in later years, Peter was not averse to calling his former students to remind them of their social duties and of principles of behavior that should guide their adult lives.
So, today, I write as a KC boy, giving thanks for the life of Peter Maxwell. There are many others who can attest to his time and impact elsewhere: in London, at Manchester High School, in the Department of English at the University of the West Indies, and as an outstanding, much-loved lecturer at the Shortwood Teachers’ College. There are others, too, who can speak authoritatively about his expertise with, and love for, the subtleties and nuances of the English language. But for me, as I remember the 1970s, and as I reflect on Peter Maxwell’s brilliant Douglas Forrest Lecture delivered in October 2011, I express my gratitude to the Kingston College tradition that provided me with the opportunity to meet that phenomenal group of English teachers from the 1970s: Fortis!
Goodbye Peter Maxwell: I know you will be “brillig” in the heavens.
Stephen Vasciannie is the Jamaican Ambassador to the United States of America