Dogs wandered between legs as guests gathered in Wynberg Boys’ High hall last week for the launch of a book on the musings of the school’s past headmaster, Keith Richardson.
Multi-talented, humble and a man of service – that was how he was described at his official farewell in 2015.
He may have retired, but he continues to be part of the school fraternity, as illustrated in the stories of more than four decades of teaching recounted in the pages of Before the Wax Melts.
Each story has a moral, from having pride and commitment to humour and taking the middle road.
He tells the story of when Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu visited the school in a Toyota and with no bodyguards. Tutu had ended his talk to the Wynberg pupils with a challenge: “How many of you were motivated by my talk. How many of you will be inspired to become a Nobel Prize winner? Give the world a new invention? Discover new cures? I challenge you young people of Rondebosch.” This to a barely audible gasp from the boys.
Tutu realised his mistake and gave his rich, infectious laugh.
“Wynberg, I meant Wynberg,” he corrected himself. On the way to his car, Mr Richardson asked the Arch if the mistake had been intentional, to which he laughed again.
And in another story, Mr Richardson admitted to having a secret desire to wear wings. An irate neighbour knocked on the door during the Night of the Stars concert asking for the headmaster. The boys pointed to the disc jockey dressed like a hippie – Mr Richardson.
He can be a tease, such as on a five-day walk through Umfolozi Game Reserve when he told Callum Evans he was taking Sandy, the dog, and if a lion or tiger attacked her, he would shoot it with the gun he was (not) taking.
Early in the book, there is a chapter inspired by Mr Richardson’s nephew, Stephen, who lives in Wellington, New Zealand. In response to a question about his daily rush to finish his homework, at 7am, he said there could be an earthquake overnight and then he would have wasted his time.
Long-suffering wife, Pippa, says Keith is more of a boy than the pupils. She remains in the background, while Sandy has two chapters in the book, telling her stories in first person.
As for the future, Mr Richardson says we must visualise where we will be in 20 years’ time. “It won’t be a white school, so let’s work towards that.”
There is a chapter on transformation, inspired by two old boys, Sisipho Fongoqa and Tim Gertzen, charging Mr Richardson, as a leader of society, to speak out on Fees Must Fall.
Mr Richardson had retired some time before and did not think that anyone would be interested in his view on the topic.
He saw the issue as a poisoned chalice whichever way you looked at it and that he could not take his usual normal reaction of finding a middle way through emotive issues.