October 2010 Volume 7

KC’s Fourth Principal

Dr. Cedric Lazarus
Text Size
  • -
  • +
  • reset

As I recall, Rev Dr. John McNab came to KC in 1975.

After six wonderful years, I was in lower 6th and about to enter my final year at KC. After Rev Don Taylor left in 1974, we had no principal until Rev McNab arrived. For sure, we had acting principals and vice principals, and indeed we were convinced that one of our teachers was aspiring for the position, but he never got it. We were a bit sorry for him. As boys we all felt that he tried too hard! Back then we had many outstanding senior teachers, many of whom, in our humble, but totally worthless, opinion would have made good principals.

For instance, there were teachers such as biology and zoology teacher Vin McKie who later became principal at Priory and a young Gladwyn Kiddoe who was head of the physics department and one of the most dynamic teachers on campus at the time. There was also Mr. White who I think left and became principal at Rusea's High and Mr. Anderson who taught BK and was our fourth form supervisor. (For those readers born after the 1970s, BK is short for Bible Knowledge and was actually an O' and A' level subject in ancient times like the 1970s; today it is probably called Religious Studies, or Religious Education).

When Rev McNab came to KC, we knew nothing at all about him. However, we quickly learnt that he was a JC Old Boy and some immediately wondered if as such he would make a good principal at KC. But most of us students though little of it. One of his first orders of business when the 1975 school year started was to appoint the headboy after a round of voting by the sixth formers and consultation with the teachers. I had no real interest in the position but somehow my fellow sixth formers and the staff thought otherwise. I can recall that in Chapel one morning Rev McNab announced that I had been selected to be headboy for the year. I was invited to say a few words and for the first time I had to address the entire student body. I mumbled something about thanking those who felt that I was capable of serving in that important position while following in the footsteps of giants before me. Clive Mullings, now Clive Mullings MP, and Errol Fray were the two deputies and I had a group of dependable prefects including Patrick Dallas, Frankie Eaton, Barry Salmon and Paul Clahar. Rev McNab and I had a good professional working relationship and although I did not visit his office often I had ready access and his front office staff, most of whom were there from the days of the Rev Don Taylor, treated us, especially those of us with the badges on our white shirts, with the utmost respect. The fact that some of the ladies who worked in the office were young and beautiful and wore mini skirt was probably the reason why some of my classmates went there at every opportunity.

Unfortunately, one or two of my colleagues did manage to get into trouble with the principal; one was even threatened with expulsion although he felt that the principal had overreacted to his so-called indiscretions which as far as he was concerned was very trivial and did not warrant a suspension, much less an expulsion. Then there were the two boys in fourth form that I mentioned in the Miami Session article. For one reason or another they were constantly being reported to the principal by various teachers. The fact that they were not expelled and actually graduated, not from another school mind you, but from KC, suggested to me that Rev McNab had a soft streak and was rather forgiving. Furthermore, I am sure that the fact that they were not expelled had nothing to do with my interventions at all. I can still recall one teacher telling me in no uncertain manner that if she had her way both boys would have been on the streets.

Fortunately for them she did not have her way! My life-long friend, Maurice Weir, although not a prefect, was KC's representative on the National Sixth Form Association at the time and he recalled having several run-ins with the principal on matters relating to school politics, politics in general and the education system at the time which Weir felt needed drastic overall. Weir was not one to back down from an argument with anyone. He was a radical student leader from his fourth form year, or before. In third or fourth form, much to the chagrin of the canteen operators and some teachers he had even organized a successful canteen strike among the students in our year.

Once during a serious dispute with the principal which continued into the classroom, another of my fellow sixth formers accused him of 'terminological inexactitude'! The entire class cracked up at this outrageous comment and a few boys grabbed for their dictionaries to confirm what the term actually meant. We knew what it meant, but were we hearing correctly? Was this sixth former actually suggesting that the principal had lied? Rev McNab got red in the face but did not expel him, not even a suspension if my memory serves me correctly!

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" Charles Dickens got it wrong! It was the best of times. Period. The 1970s were the best of times for us KC students. KC was the top high school in the country and no-one could convince us otherwise. We wore our purple and white tie with such pride and were so confident that all other schools felt that we were show-offs. To us it was self confidence and pride and they were envious of our successes. But then, some think that pride is a sin, and a deadly one at that! In '75 we were triple champions at football; the team of Ivor Nugent, Barry Salmon, Orett Campbell and Donovan 'Pip' Shaw coached by the marvelous Frances Phillips retained the Schools Challenge Trophy to become the first team to successfully defend the trophy which was won the previous year by the KC quartet of Campbell, Ian Jackson, Michael Fitzhenley and Audley Jones. In table tennis we were literally unbeatable for the entire decade of the 1970s and in 1975 the track team had won again for the 14th year in a row – a record that by all accounts will never be broken. Academically we were also well established with scores of KC boys ascending on the Mona Campus of the UWI and the St Augustine Campus in Trinidad each year and many going to CAST (now UTech) and universities overseas. And we had brilliant teachers to thank for our academic success such as Ms Baxter, Mrs Barber, Mrs Reid, Ms Reid, Mrs Riley, Mrs Branch (who is still at KC looking young after all those years, and that's no pun!) QC Edwards, Mr Evans, Peter Maxwell, Frances Coke, Helen Douglas, Mrs Urquhart, Mr Urquhart, Ms Serrant, Ms Morck and many others. This was the KC when Rev McNab arrived in '75.

For my part the year went quickly, too quickly. When I left school in '76 Rev McNab took the advice of Mrs. Sylvia Barber, our biology and zoology teacher, and hired me as a pre-trained biology teacher. I had planned to go to UWI to do natural sciences and probably eventually medicine or become a biologist or something like that but decided to take a year off to chill out as it were and to see if I could get a scholarship to do veterinary medicine someplace in the world. Teaching was actually my third option and biology was by favourite subject. I taught students like Victor Henry, the current KCPTA president, Paul Blake who went on to form the reggae band Blood Fire Posse and Christopher Hunt whose brother Paul was in my class. If my biology students learnt nothing that year I take full responsibility for I was probably a lousy teacher. Years later I developed a love for teaching and silently thanked those boys for being my guinea pigs!

While I was teaching in '76-'77 year, Leighton 'Johnny' Dawes succeeded me as headboy under Rev McNab. Johnny as we all called him was by then a seasoned driver and had access to the principal's car! Some of us will remember that a few select sixth formers also had access to Doug's car and we all know by now that even Bishop Gibson would give proven drivers the keys to his car. Proven is the operative word here. Leighton used to drive his mother's car to school; I think that it was a green triumph which was well known to his friends at KC and his sisters' friends at Immaculate and Merl Grove High. We all assumed that he had a licence, because his mother and two sisters were often his passengers. Rev McNab obviously felt that he was competent enough, otherwise why would he lend him his car to go on errands? For the record, I did not learn to drive until my final year at university, five years after I left KC!

I was on the Mona Campus visiting friends the night of the fire in May of '77 and recall going to North Street that night when I heard about the disaster. We all know by now of Rev McNab's rallying the school with the famous line the next day, "Fire destroys wood, but tempers steel." The entire KC family was in mourning after that disaster and some of us are still morning the destruction of the historic Hardie House.

By the summer of '77 I was at university overseas but I kept in touch with the happenings at KC mainly through George Dallas, younger brother of Patrick, who was still at school at the time and some of my friends who were on campus at Mona. Stephen Vasciannie was headboy from '77 to ' 78 and he recalled that the principal treated the sixth formers like adults, pushed them towards excellence and insisted that they should be attentive to the concept of noblesse oblige.

Rev McNab left KC in 1978 and migrated to Canada that same year. I do not know the true circumstances under which he left the school as I was not in Jamaica then. Later I learnt that there were rumblings in some quarters about his leadership style. Maybe we will probably never know the true reasons why he left after only a few years as principal. He was only 46 years old at the time. In Canada he was Rector of St Paul's Church at the Diocese of Montreal from 1978 until 1982 and from 1980 until 1992 he was a lecturer in the Faculty of Religious Studies at McGill University, Canada's top university. He was also the Director of Pastoral Studies at the Montreal Diocesan Theological College.

Dr McNab has been ill for the past few years and is now in a nursing home in Toronto. Last year together with Pansy Beckford, widow of KC legend D.P. Beckford, I visited Rev McNab and spent about an hour reminiscing with him about his days at KC. He had only good things to say about his time at KC and the memories were pleasant ones. I was a bit surprised that he remembered Dawes, Vasciannie and me, as well as quite a few others from that era. He also remarked that he in fact knew many generations of KC boys, namely, those against whom he played football and cricket in the late 1950s; others whom he met while his father was a teacher at the school in the same period and those whom he encountered as principal in the 1970s.

In September this year, a group of Old Boys from the Toronto Chapter, lead by the President Lawrence 'Tiger' Prendergast paid him a visit at the nursing home after they heard that his health had further deteriorated. (See picture of Rev McNab with the group) However, they reported that he was still in relatively good spirits and was moved to tears that KC boys living in Toronto, including some who were not even at school during his tenure had taken the time to visit him.

Top of Page