Tuesday, 22 March 2011

A Hughes lesson

It was quite obvious that JMB (Mike) Hughes had a tremendous attachment for the Penang Free School. Though he was the headmaster for only seven years, his tenure meant a great deal to him. It was just about the best years of his life. He touched the lives of the boys and girls who had studied in the school from 1957 to 1963 and left an indelible impression on them. Even after retirement, he returned to Penang several times for holidays and never once could he say that he was not the centre of attention.

I never got to meet him but having heard some stories about him, it felt as if I had. When my batch of schoolmates held our reunion last month and we had invited some of our own old teachers to the function, one of them even asked me whether I had any news about Hughes. She was mighty worried, she said, because she hadn't heard from him for a very long time. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could offer her.

Hughes was the guest of honour of the Old Frees' Association when he visited Penang in October 1983. As his trip would coincide with the School's Speech Day, it was proposed - and readily accepted by Hughes - that he should speak as the official OFA representative. Thus, it was a proud moment for him to return to the school on 21 Oct 1983, walk along the corridors, enter the hall and walk down the aisle, mount the steps onto the old stage, listen fervently to the School Rally and beam down on the expectant faces before him.

Someone emailed me a scanned article on the address that Hughes made during that Speech Day. I would like reproduce an excerpt from it here:

"From the time I first knew the Free School, it had a tradition - it looked back with reverence to its past: concentrated upon its present and anticipated its future. The quality and academic excellence it aspired to was the key to all three, linked closely to its pride in its performance on the playing field. This spirit built up over generations had made it a wonderful place to be in 20 years ago. It is still with you today.

"All of you are now on the threshold of adulthood and may look forward to positions of responsibility and trust. You will be thinking about freedom and you may realise that this is impossible without order. You may also seek liberty but you will find out that only through discipline can you have all three. Order is the key to freedom and liberty so that your fellow citizens may go about their daily tasks unimpared. But it is the kind of discipline which means self control to which I refer. A self control which will both enable you to succeed in your studies and also to take responsibility for others when that responsibility is given to you. Always be the master of yourself and others will respect you for it. However high you may rise in status and authority, never forget the problems of others less fortunate. Only then can you be complete, educated, men and women.

"It seems to me that Malaysia has progressed in an astonishing fashion. Ever since I arrived, people have swarmed around me eager and willing to take me in their latest Mercedes to see the latest development either soaring into the sky or stretching along the beach until former familiar places seem entirely new. With all these gains around you, you may be tempted to look for wealth first and seek knowledge second. Perhaps it might be advisable to pursue knowledge to its utmost and then it may not be necessary to look for wealth. I am sure the many men and women who have graduated from here may agree with me. The PFS Spirit implies this - perhaps it might help you also."

Note: The joint funeral of JMB Hughes and his wife Jean will be held today in Okehampton, England. Hughes died on 16 mar 2011 and his wife passed away five days earlier. Both had been sick for quite a while. A condolence book was opened at the Old Frees' Association, Penang last week.

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