Mas­ter of a gen­tler school ap­proach

Rex Pennington’s ca­reer em­braced Bish­ops, Michael­house and St Peter’s

The Star Late Edition - - NEWS - STAFF RE­PORTER

REX Pennington, 93, a Rhodes scholar who also fought in Italy with the Natal Car­bi­neers is no more.

When Pennington took his last breath last Satur­day, his wife of 68 years, Sarah, was at his side.

Pennington was pas­sion­ate about ed­u­ca­tion as he had been born into a fam­ily of renowned teachers. He was the son of Ken Pennington, the “Mr Chips of Michael­house” who was also fondly known as KMP.

Ken was one of five brothers writ­ten about in a widely pub­lished ar­ti­cle in the 1980s ti­tled “The Fa­mous Five”. It read “The Pennington brothers made an enor­mous con­tri­bu­tion to the fields of ed­u­ca­tion and sport, and to the Angli­can Church in Natal – a con­tri­bu­tion that ex­tended over 50 years of sus­tained ef­fort”.

Pennington con­tin­ued that legacy and en­riched it and he was also blessed with an abun­dance of tal­ent both as a Chris­tian, a leader, a teacher and a sports­man.

He at­tended Michael­house where he com­pleted his ma­tric at age 16 with dis­tinc­tions. He was head boy, vice-cap­tain of Natal Schools rugby, and in the first teams of cricket, ten­nis, squash and ath­let­ics.

He spent a year at Rhodes Uni­ver­sity, then joined the Natal Car­bi­neers in Italy the fol­low­ing year. He was posted to the in­tel­li­gence sec­tion of The Royal Natal Car­bi­neers in Italy un­der Colonel Fran­cis, a Michael­house old boy.

In 1946 he was awarded the Natal Rhodes Schol­ar­ship. He read PPE, won Blues for both squash and bad­minton, cap­tained Ox­ford squash and grad­u­ated with an MA (Oxon). In 1949 he mar­ried Sarah, the daugh­ter of Sir Arnold Wil­son DSO, who his fa­ther had met dur­ing World War I in Me­sopotamia.

The newly mar­ried cou­ple was then of­fered a three-year as­sign­ment to set up the English de­part­ment at Casady School in Ok­la­homa City in the US.

In 1953 he joined the staff of Bish­ops Dioce­san Col­lege in Cape Town where he was un­til 1968. He was ap­pointed house mas­ter of White House, one of three board­ing houses at Bish­ops. He also headed the Latin de­part­ment, was in charge of drama, was the U16 rugby coach, school ten­nis coach and the se­nior of­fi­cer of the Bishop’s Cadet Corps. Dur­ing this time he won the West­ern Prov­ince Squash Cham­pi­onships five times. He was then ap­pointed as vice-prin­ci­pal un­der An­thony Mal­lett (the fa­ther of Nick, the for­mer Spring­boks coach) in 1965.

Four years later Pennington was ap­pointed rec­tor at Michael­house. He had a spe­cific man­date: to make the school into a gen­tler place. He de­liv­ered on his man­date by stop­ping the can­ing of the boys, fun­da­men­tally chang­ing ini­ti­a­tion and ex­pand­ing the award­ing of hon­ours to achieve­ments on the sports field, the class­room and ex­tra­mu­ral ac­tiv­i­ties.

One of his speeches that he de­liv­ered in re­sponse to a 1972 gov­ern­ment re­port on “Dif­fer­en­ti­ated Ed­u­ca­tion in South Africa” was cer­tainly rous­ing. He said: “No lib­er­a­tion is so great – and I speak here from deep per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence – as the gift of see­ing every hu­man be­ing sim­ply as a hu­man be­ing, not as a mem­ber of any race or group. There are signs of hope and op­ti­mism – the pes­simists would have us be­lieve that the writ­ing is on the wall. My earnest hope is that no such pes­simist will ever walk out from here, that no boys will leave Michael­house, through ig­no­rance or un­aware­ness, or worst of all, un­con­cern.”

Af­ter nine years at the helm, Pennington re­signed from Michael­house at the end of 1977. An­son Lloyd, then chair­man of the board said in his speech day de­liv­ery when Pennington left that: “1977 must un­doubt­edly go down in his­tory as Pennington Year, and the nam­ing of the Pennington Quad in trib­ute to the whole Fam­ily Pennington”. Pennington was back to teach­ing as he found him­self at St Peter’s Prepara­tory school in Jo­han­nes­burg un­der one of his for­mer pupils, Richard Todd.

Three years later he was ap­pointed head­mas­ter of Pace Com­mer­cial Col­lege in Or­lando West, Soweto. He leaves his wife Sarah, five chil­dren, Steuart, Kathryn, Miles, Jervis and Ruth as well as 12 grand­chil­dren. A memo­rial ser­vice will be held at Michael­house on Thurs­day at 2.30pm and he will be buried in the Michael­house ceme­tery.

… see­ing every hu­man be­ing sim­ply as a hu­man be­ing

DED­I­CATED: Rex Pennington used his tal­ents in the ser­vice of hu­man­ity as a teacher, house mas­ter, prin­ci­pal and Chris­tian.

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