Former Headmaster of Trinity Grammar School.
A wonderful teacher, a visionary, an inspirer of men, much loved by Trinitarians far and wide. His passing has been mourned by many. For a few days after news spread across the Trinity community, former students scattered throughout the world posted a variety of tributes to him. That in itself is a testament to not only how influential he was to a generation of young men, but how beloved he was by us.
For me personally, he looms large as a model of what pastoral care can and should look like. Yes, I know he wasn’t a pastor of a church. But the way he knew and cared for his students, as well as their families, has been something I’ve aspired to. I remember the very first Speech Day. As the whole school community entered in to the hall, he was there at the door greeting everyone. And while it was surprising that he greeted me, a mere year 7 student, by name, what was even more surprising was that he knew my parents by their first names and greeted them. As far as I knew, he’d never met them face-to-face before. So to know the names of the whole family of a student meant he’d spent hours and hours reading through and memorising the files of students.
Since those days, while I’ve had the privilege of being able to meet with him and speak with him years after leaving high school, I still can not get myself to call him by his first name, Rod. He is, and forever will be, “Mr West”.
As I think upon his funeral service tomorrow, a thousand and one memories of the man come to mind. From him cutting his holiday short to attend the inauguration service of our church plant, to a surprise letter of support when he found out I was attending Lausanne III in Cape Town.
But most memorable of all was the very first time I spoke with him face-to-face.
It was a scary, scary moment!
I was just in year 7, and still adjusting to life in high school. Simple things like changing classrooms for different subjects left me lost and bewildered. Not to mention the fact that I was weighed down – literally – by the heaviest of bags. On a side note, it’s sad and silly that a school bag a student has to carry is the heaviest for year 7, then gradually gets lighter and lighter over the years.
Anyways, we were in English class. It was the last 2 periods of the day, and I was longing for the bell to signal my release. We heard a knock on the door, and the School Marshall came in, looked on a sheet of paper, and asked, “Is there a Steve Ho here?”
“It’s ‘Oh’ sir, not ‘Ho’. And yes, that’s me.”
“The Headmaster wants to see you in his office. Immediately!”
I was suddenly panic-stricken. And my English teacher, a Mr Parsons on a year exchange from the UK, stared at me round-eyed, while all around me, my fellow students were murmuring, “Ooooohhhh!!! He’s busted!!!”
I hastily packed my things and, on the verge of tears, left with the Marshall, who walked me to the Headmaster’s office in complete silence.
Not a single word of explanation or encouragement.
All the while, I was wracking my brains to work out what I could possibly be in trouble for.
In front of the Headmaster’s Office, I was met by his secretary. I didn’t know he had a secretary, but I did now.
“I’m Steve Oh. Mr West is expecting me…”
“The Headmaster is having his afternoon tea, so you’ll have to wait a moment. You can sit down there.”
I waited for what seemed like an eternity.
Finally, the secretary came to me and said, “Mr West will see you now.” And she escorted me to the door.
“Enter!” boomed a voice.
I nervously opened the door and took a faltering step in.
Before me was a surprisingly large office, and a huge desk. I hesitantly moved to the front of the desk behind which Mr West was seated in a plush maroon chair intently reading something on his desk.
Dry-mouthed, and sweaty-palmed, I stammered a barely audible, “I’m here sir…”
Without raising moving his head, Mr West peered over his reading glasses, and with a piercing stare sharply asked, “Are you Steve Oh?”
So I took a seat in a chair in front of the desk.
“Why do you think you’re here?” he asked. At this point, I just wanted to die.
“I don’t know sir.”
“Are you in the orchestra?”
That completely bamboozled me. Where on earth did that come from? I couldn’t even answer but just stared in fear…
Mr West opened a drawer and took out what looked to be a newspaper. Laying it in front of me, he asked, “Is this you?”
And indeed, it was. A half page photo of me, playing the violin.
The previous week, the official opening ceremony of the new school swimming pool included a performance by the school orchestra. I happened to have been photographed playing in the orchestra, and the photo was printed in some Anglican School newspaper.
Mr West, his demeanour a lot more friendly than before, told me I could have the copy of the paper, gave me a Caramelo Koala, and sent me on my way. I left his office in a state of bewilderment, wondering what on earth had just happened.
Years later, after I’d graduated from high school, I had a chance to ask Mr West about that. Surprisingly, he remembered the incident. And laughing, he told me it was intentionally set up that way to scare me witless!