Br Martin Duncan, who passed away, last week in South Africa after a short illness, was an educationalist par excellence. A principled and good man to boot.
And judging by the heartfelt condolence messages posted on various social media by so many old boys he taught over many years, his positive influence seemingly affected hundreds who attended the Christian Brothers schools at Embakwe and Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and CBCs Welkom and Springs in South Africa.
I can certainly say that Br Duncan was one of a handful of educators who shaped and moulded my egalitarian world view early on. He saw leadership qualities in me which I did not realise existed or in fact, truth be told I was too lackadaisical to utilise.
Such was his faith in me that he convinced me to become head prefect in final year of secondary school. I say convinced, because I was not particularly interested in the role, seemingly content in being just a prefect and in the shadows.
Many years later when I became one of the country’s youngest sub-editors at a leading national newspaper, he would remind me of my initial reluctance to take a leadership role and how even back then he realised that I would always be there and thereabouts.
Many were an evening when I would sit down with him in his office and we would discuss events taking place in the school and more generally about what was happening in the wider world. Generally, I can credit him with instilling in me, a keen interest in current and world affairs and a politically inquisitive mind.
I know he was also puzzled by my occasional predilection for rowing with teachers even as he counted me as one of the school’s ‘bright sparks’. Indeed, I was permanently banned from History (in 4th year) and Maths (in 3rd year) classes as a result and generally did not endear myself that well to most of the teaching staff, more so when I became head prefect.
Br Duncan was stern when he needed to be (as any principal or head teacher worth their salt can be), but mostly had a smile that set you at ease when you least expected. Like most educators of the era, he had a little ‘whangee’ (a padded little strap for meting out discipline to delinquent pupils). Strangely, despite my subversive relationship with the teaching staff, me and the ‘whangee’ never got acquainted.
I last saw Br Duncan a week or so before I headed for Ireland and he was palpably excited that I was going to the land where his Christian Brothers congregation had been founded by Edmund Rice in the early 19th century in Waterford, Ireland.
He had lots of advice and most importantly gave me contacts that proved to be invaluable when I landed in Ireland and set about establishing myself.
There are so many young to middle aged men now scattered all over the world who are very thankful that they had the fortune to fall under the considered tutelage of Br Martin Duncan.
May he rest in peace!