Letter from Mr Elmo de Bruin
Royal’s legendary teacher’s wish for Sri Lanka
My dear Clarence,
Please forgive me for having taken so long to write a reply to your card of greetings to me for Christmas and the New Year. As I write now, a full third of the year has already gone by, and I can only hope that it has been a time of happiness and good health for you and your family.
My problem is, of course, that I now have two sets of old students to deal with and the Cornwallians outnumber the Royalists – for although I did a little more than 16 years teaching at Royal, I did almost 38 years here at Cornwall, taking advantage of the fact that the Ministry of Education in Jamaica allowed teachers who reached the retiring age of 65 (as I did in 1988) to go on teaching full-time even while receiving pension. That permission was withdrawn at the end of the school-year 1998-99, at which here I was "forcibly" retired. Maybe it was high time that I left the classroom, for my eyesight and hearing are both causing problems, and there is no way I could go out on to a games field for any kind of coaching.
I remember you well as a keen athlete, and partly also because of your initials, for the Civil Service was supposed to be part of my ambition according to members of our family. While it is true that I held my own while a student at Royal, winning prizes and scholarships, the three years I subsequently spent at University were a dismal failure. I did not find enough interest in the three-year Mathematics Honours Course that I went through, and ended up with an Ordinary Pass – which meant that the CCS was out of the question. I had to find immediate employment, and the easiest job to find was in teaching. I did a few months at Zahira, teaching ‘boys’ in the Commercial Class who were older than I was, and came to Royal in January, 1945.
My old teachers at Royal, like Mr. Anglie and Mr. T. M. Weerasinghe, urged me to get out of teaching as soon as possible, but I got more and more involved with the various activities of the school so that the years went by quickly and happily. In a way it seemed that all my experience at Royal, meeting with a great cricketer like Learie Constantine, great athletes like Bob Mathias and Bob Richards, served to prepare me for Cornwall – where I seemed to pick up where I had left off at Royal. The curious coincidence that Cornwall had the same motto ‘Disce Aut Discede’ as Royal was partly responsible for my staying on at Cornwall when so many other expatriate teachers from the UK and Canada finished their contracts and went back where they had come from. And at the end of it all the government gave me a National Honour (the Order of Destruction) for what was described as "exceptional services in the field of education." There have been difficulties but there has been a great deal of happiness for me, with a host of memories that I recall with pleasure. Many of my pupils have become leading figures in Sri Lanka, in Jamaica and elsewhere around the world, and it is good to know that I played a part in their upbringing. Some of them have come to Jamaica, on business or on holiday, and have taken the trouble to come to look for me. And there is a problem there, for some of them have grown completely out of recognition.
I have been kept well-informed on what has been happening in Sri Lanka over the years, and at Royal. Besides the various letters from my relatives still in Sri Lanka and from past students, I have been sent a copy of each of his publications by ‘Jungle’ Dissanayaka, who has been writing a series of books on the politics of Sri Lanka and on the so-called ‘ethnic struggle,’ I was extremely heartened by his last book "The Quest for Peace" which affirmed the permanent cease-fire and the end of hostilities and the dreadful suicide-bombing. The progress of the peace plan, monitored by the Norwegian Government, seems to have been acceptable so far to both parties and the process of reconciliation and re-building can now get under way. It will doubtless take time and will take much money as well, but it seems that the Sinhalese and the Tamils can now live in peace as once they did. A recent letter from Tissa Atapattu claimed that things are really looking up in Sri Lanka again and the future seems bright. I pray that this is so.
Jamaica’s population is estimated to be about 2 ½ million, with about the same number of Jamaicans living abroad, mostly in the USA, Canada and the UK. Jamaicans working abroad and earning wages and salaries they could not dream of making in Jamaica are said to send remittances to their families here which make up quite a sizeable contribution to the Jamaican economy.
In spite of the small numbers, Jamaicans have excelled in sports, with big names like George Headley in cricket, also Courtney Walsh who holds the record for most Test wickets (519). Athletics has seen the legendary Arthur Wint and Herb Mckenley, more recently Donald Quarrie and Marline Ottey. Lenox Lewis was born in Jamaica but boxes out of England. Every year our top high-school athletes, both male and female, win scholarships to US universities, where some of them go on to successful professional careers but others have to settle for less.
At the moment it seems that Jamaica has discovered a potential world-beater in a 16-year-old schoolboy, Usain Bolt by name, taking his O-levels next months at William Knibb HS not 50 miles away from here. He hit the headlines last year at the World Youth Games held here in Kingston in July. Not quite 16 then he ran only in the 200 m. event against athletes 2 and 3 years older than he was, and won in a time of 20.5 seconds. The boy is 6’5" in height, and his parents have said he "eats like a horse." The track on which he ran had just been completely relaid at the National Stadium, and I wondered whether this might has been a factor in his performance. In March this year, taking part in the 200 m. and 400 m. in the Jamaican equivalent of the Public Schools’ Meet he lowered the 200 m. record from 20.79 to 20.25 and the 400 m. from 46.22 to 45.35. Most recently he led the Jamaican team to the Carifta Games and came back with 4 gold medals – with records in the 200 m and 400m and running the anchor leg in the 4x100m. and 4x400 m. both in new times. He was named most promising junior male athlete for 2002 by the IAAF – and the world should hear more about him.
With my thanks again and with my regards and good wishes to you and your family God Bless you all.
Elmo de Bruin.