A tribute to headmaster Guy Pearson.
In the middle of the year Guy Pearson went into retirement. Guy was a headmaster of several well-known schools over the course of his career, including Michaelhouse where I had the privilege of working with him for nearly ten years. Over his time as an educational leader Guy had to deal with a sex scandal involving teacher and pupils, oversee Black Lives Matter and manage a school through lockdown all while fighting a personal illness. And that was just his last few years.
Being a head in the 21st Century is no easy task. You must be as adept at dealing with lawyers as learners. As polished with parents as you are down with pupils. The job requires that you navigate the nuances of the board and staff rooms while simultaneously assuaging the alumni. It’s not for the faint hearted.
Many educators aspire to headship at the start of their careers, not so many once they realise what it entails. Even fewer get the chance to take on the role and few of those do it well. Guy was one of those few. That’s not to say he didn’t have his flaws, he did. He made mistakes; we all do. However, looking back, I can’t remember many, and those I can seem hardly worth remembering.
It is hard to capture the essence of someone’s career in a few words. I hope the following three first-hand stories go some way to doing so.
Early on in my Michaelhouse career, Guy decided to take me to meet our Johannesburg parents at the Bryanston Country Club. Some 180 parents had accepted the invite and as we left Michaelhouse for the five-hour road trip, Guy handed me a piece of paper containing the guest list for the event. ‘Test me on these’ he demanded. From Hidcote to Harrismith I served him name after parents name while he volleyed back with the name of their son, what grade and house he was in, what sport he was playing and usually some other important fact about them. He got at least 95% correct instantly and by the time we stopped for coffee he was able to reel off the information unhesitatingly with 100% accuracy.
It was a privilege to watch him work the room that night and witness the warm reaction of parents.
The second story relates to the school production of ‘Joseph’ staged by the talented Dionne Redfern. It was one of the best school musicals I had ever seen. On the evening I went to see it, I noticed Guy watching utterly absorbed. Talking after the show I asked him how he found it. ‘Brilliant’ he said, ‘even better than last night. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s performance’. Yes, Guy went to every single performance of that play not just the mandatory Gala event. When I asked him why, he reflected that each evening, he noticed a different boy, or something different about each boy. Anyone who knows something of the nature of being a head knows what dedication this level of interest takes.
Guy’s personal interest in every boy at the school was at the heart of what he did as a leader.
Finally, Guy’s enthusiasm for school life was not only invested in parents and students but also in the staff. I have coached Under 14 Soccer for some time and one August afternoon, ahead of the weekend fixture with our largest rival, I bumped into Guy. ‘I have heard great things about your team’ he said. ‘I am coming to watch them on Saturday’. Fortunately, we had a good game and as the third goal went in, I looked up to see our Headmaster literally jump for joy on the other side of the field.
You always felt with Guy that your successes were his successes too. And not just on the sports field.
Guy gave me a card during my early days at Michaelhouse. I kept it for years. On the inside cover of a red line drawing of Michaelhouse it said, ‘I want to thank you for the contribution you have made. You have made a significant impact and the boys like you.’
I think that, and more, is true for you too Guy. Enjoy your retirement. Your rest is well earned.