How’s your Mother?

(c) 2015 Edward C Lunnon 

8 years 6 months ill …

Physical: Advantage CBD / Mental: Deuce

It was January of 1984. 

I had completed my matric, a year of studies in Oklahoma, USA, my university education at Stellenbosch and two years in the defence force at Oudtshoorn.

Now it was work time, and together with some 15 other new teachers I arrived at Grey High School in Port Elizabeth at the beginning of the new academic year. The chairs were meticulously arranged in a circle in the office and just one remained unoccupied. The incumbant must have got cold feet because the man in charge, we learnt later, did not make such mundane errors!

That person in charge, the Headmaster, introduced himself to us as Mr Dieter Pakendorf, the Rector, and would henceforth be addressed either as such or for less formal occassions we could use the word “Sir”!

The meticulous arrangement of the chairs was indicative of the man’s style – military, precise, exact, strict, unambiguous, unerring, authentic, conscientious, rigid and true.

He shared many pearls of wisdom with us that morning. One, I recall, was that no new teacher was to smile at his class before Easter. You ensured that you started with the discipline in your upper hand and then gradually relinquished it. The other way round would not work  – never start off being friendly and then trying to become a disciplinarian! Once lost, he said, it was always lost!

He was small in stature. But his presence filled the room, any room, that office, the De Waal Hall. the hostel and indeed the whole school building  and gounds of the Mill Park campus, now in its 100th year.

And just as his diminutive presence filled the space that he entered, just so did his presence fill those that he encountered with fear and trepidation – whether you were a pupil or a teacher.

There were many issues that one, as a staff member, had to bring to his attention, or discuss with him. I was not the only person who would spend agonising days and nights pondering the correct approach and practicing the appropiate vocabulary. 

Then came the moment.

You would muster up the courage, proceed down the stairwell from the staff room to the Rector’ Study, only to turn around at his door and return the way you had come!

Your courage had failed you.

Time and again you would attempt the landing approach into his office. Eventually, it would happen – and I don’t recall him ever asking you to sit down to discuss the issue. His mind was too quick for that!

Whatever problem you had pondered about – often for days and weeks – would be listened to, summarised, analysed and categorised. A few possible and probable scenarios were sketched, each with its own outcome and positives and negatives. Within minutes, he would spurt forth the correct decission “according to Dieter” aand, come hell or high water, he would stick to that decision, even if it meant that he would have to apologise in the long run!

He stood by his word, he stood by his decision and he stood by his man and his staff member! Even in show downs with parents, he would  back his staff member to the hilt in front of the parent, only to call you back on the departure of the parent and to reprimand you for having made the wrong educational decision and to remind you that should it happen again you would not be able to depend on his protection!

He never fraternised with his parents nor his staff. What was said was said using the least number of words required. In fact, he never encouraged idle chatter and seldom, if ever, initiated trivial or petty conversation.

He left staff functions first in order to allow the staff to let down their hair, and made it quite clear at functions after sport events when staff members should leave and end the party. For some or other reason he would approach me and advise “Mr Lunnon, it’s time for your friends to leave!” He certainly did not mince his words!

In the hostel, he and the hostel staff ate breakfast together with the boarders every morning.

We were quite a jovial bunch of young teachers in our early twenties. But whatever we would be discussing when he joined the table would be killed off in a matter of seconds by him. So we each had to bring three topics of conversation to breakfast table, so that when he killed one subject, we would have another to contnue with – until such time as we had run out of suitable subjects!

And the morning when he poured the orange juice out of the silver milk jug and over his jungle oats, in full view of all at the table, not a single soul would have dared a smile let alone a hearty laugh!

Personal matters were never discussed, so it came as quite a surprise one morning when The Rector looked up at me and enquired how my (ill) mother was. She had actually passed away six months earlier, so my sort of garbled response was “She’s fine Sir, she passed away in November!”

To this day, the standard form of greeting between Tony Reeler (now Headmaster of Pretoria Boys High School) and I is “Mr Lunnon / Mr Reeler, how’s your mother?!”

Desspite his serious attitude, he always looked at  his happiest when dressed in his grey suit, he would drive the school’s blue tractor around the Philip field or on the ash athletics track! To me, he always seemed more at home on the tractor than in his black robes. But his school, The Grey, came first and he punted it at every occassion, whether it was to the Boys, the parents, the Provincial Rugby Club that he chaired or the UPE Council that he headed.

After i had left teaching, I received a call from Lorraine (Coetzee) Schumann his secretary. She enquired whether I was wearing a jacket and tie because the rector had invited me for drinks at St Georges CluB that afternoon.

I thought she was joking and was setting me up. After all, the rector had never invited me for a social engagement at school never mind after having left the school.

I drove past St Georges that afternoon just to check, and lo and behold the grey Sierra was parked there. I went in to find the Rector and Ronnie Draper.

I was greeted with a “good afternoon, Mr Lunnon”, and I replied “Good afternoon, Sir!”

” Dieter” he said, call me “Dieter”! 

“Yes Sir,”  I replied! 

To this day, I don’t know of any of his staff members who would call him Dieter to his face!  

I was offered a beer and with no further word spoken, a plate of snacks was put in front of me. I took a meatball off the plate holding the toothpick at the top of the stick with the meatball below. I was quite nervous at this my fist personal social encounter with the Rector.

The meatball fell off the stick onto the floor.

With nothing being said, he moved the plate over to me yet again. This time he picked up the meatball, turned the toothpick around so that the balll rested on his fingers and handed the toothpick over to me, ensuring that if it slipped it would simply rest on my fingers! I imagined that he must have said to himself “what a fool!!” but he wasnt like that.

He guided you and led you and taught you in the way he did so well, quietly, few words, practically and by example.

Despite the outward appearance, he really cared about you as a person, whether  it was to offer you a job back at the school (which what that meeting was all about) or whether he was concerned about my future teaching and job decisions, my house I bought in Ryan Street (Maureen, he told me with pride was a Ryan!) or an invite to visit at their Nature’s Valley home.

He cared deeply about his school and would say that the parents’ role stopped at the front gate. From thereon inwards, was his role and that of his staff. I often wonder how his teaching style would have gone down in the new South African era! My computer laboratory, the first of its kind in Port Elizabeth, received all the assistance that he could muster.

He cared about his country and in the height of apartheid days the black hostel staff would be requested to sing at the BODA banquet, none other then the original African national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

And he cared about his Grey boys. He left them, in his unique way, a legacy that would be difficult to find elsewhere. it would be difficult to find a product of Dieter Pakendorf, staff member or pupil, who would be unable to say that he did not learn something from the man.

In 2010 I heard him make an unprepared speech at the 25th reunion function of that year. Despite his illness already taking over his faculties, the Rector did not disappoint. He moved from person to person in the room and recalled an appropriate story for each person.

A few years ago Grey was playing rugby against Paul Roos in Stellenbosch. I was not there but my youngest son Philip later told me that a man had called him over and asked him if he was related to Ed Lunnon. Phillip said he thought it was a previous Rector because he recognized the man from the painting in the De Waal Hall. Indeed it was the ex-Rector and once again he showed his concern and astute intellectual ability by recognizing me in my son and by passing on his good wishes to me.

He showed just why he will remain a revered Rector of The Grey.

I was sad that I could not attend his funeral in Cape Town, but I will be there at the reunion ceremony when his ashes will be interred into the wall of the De Waal Hall. It is somewhat ironical that in our later years we have both had to battle similar neurological illnesses. We certainly weren’t given the easy ones!

It was a privilege and a pleasure to teach under you, Sir. I will count those as some of the special days of my life and I shall remain indebted to you for employing me, not once, but twice!

Maybe now, you can let me know just how my mother is!


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