September 2011 Volume 8

KCOBA Tribute to Wally Johnson

Dr. Ray Fraser
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Firstly, I would like to express condolences on behalf of the Toronto, Atlanta, Florida, New York and Local Chapters of the Kingston College Old Boys’ Association to the family & friends of Ivan Wally Johnson.  The Kingston College Old Boys’ Association is considered the most vibrant, active, committed and dedicated Alumni in Jamaica. 

Wally Johnson was an embodiment of all those characteristics.  As an old boy, he was well loved and respected.  He was a giant, a legend, a stalwart and was very passionate about KC.  He had a wealth of knowledge of the history, idiosyncrasies and understood the dynamics of KC.  As one old boy puts it, “his knowledge of KC is like reading his brother’s book on the History of KC.”  Wally’s life was KC, he is the old boy who has the longest service record directly at the school amounting to over forty (40) years.

Wally’s association with KC started a few years before he became a student while his older brothers attended KC.  As a matter of fact, all six siblings attended KC.  Wally is one of the few old boys who had the distinction of associating with all principals, since the founding of KC in 1925 as he was a student with Bishop Gibson, a Teacher under the leadership of Douglas Forrest and worked with all other principals including present Acting Principal, Mr. Everton Burrell.

Over the years, many outsiders have asked why the KC old boys are so passionate and loyal to their school.  Wally eloquently summed it up in his message in the KC 75th Anniversary School Magazine, and I quote, “One of the most pleasing aspects of the school has been the almost total way in which the Old Boys have kept their links with each passing generation.  It is this spirit that has kept the tradition alive and it is this glorious tradition that has fed the love for “the College” that the thousands of graduates and the present student body share as a Heritage.” 

Wally was a strategist, a tactician and a motivator, this was evident during the late 80s and early 90s as most old boys will be recall that the KC fraternity went through one of its most challenging period in its history when there was tension between the Administration, School Board and Old Boys.  According to Past President, Stratchan Palmer, Wally is credited with having mediated and stabilized the relationship, guided and anchored the school and kept it on a steady path of recovery and improvement.  It is noted, that during this difficult time, there was great concern with respect to the boys’ performance and behaviour but Wally molded and motivated the boys to the point where statistically the boys produced the best ever external examination results in the history of the school.

While he was Principal, he was a father figure to many boys.   As one old boy recounted, he did not have a father at home, but with the consistent encouragement and guidance of Wally, he had an ever present father figure and as such he did not miss a father.  And even today, he confirms that Wally’s influence still impacts on him.   This is the common experience for many old boys.  In 2006, Wally was honoured by the Kingston College Old Boys’ Association for his outstanding contribution to the KC fraternity.

Although sick in bed in his latter days, that did not dampen his Fortis spirit.  When his nephew sought his opinion, as to whether or not, the Kingston College Old Boys Association’s proposed project for the reconfiguration of the gate and entrance to the school should be a priority, his immediate response was “Yes, every great institution deserves an impressive entrance meaning that “An entrance must hint to all who see it, the aspirations of those within.”  Hence, today’s collection will be donated towards this project which will be dedicated to his memory.

Prior to visiting him at the hospital, I got an update on his condition from Professor Wilks who was very concerned about his deteriorating state of health.  However, I was pleasantly surprised when I visited him, as despite his frail appearance and delicate condition, I was greeted with that characteristic Wally smile and composure, followed by the question, how is the Old Boys’ Association?  A few days later, he was visited by another old boy, H.G. Helps and probably as a “brave” not fearful of his mortality, and in his usual jovial manner as well as a sportsman who loved cricket, he commented, “I have a short innings to play, I have been caught on the back foot, when I should be playing forward.”  As a Literature teacher, he must have contemplated the verse of Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar and substituted the word valiant for brave, “cowards die many times before their death, but the brave never taste of death but once.”

Wally, the “Brave” has fallen, but will never yield, the spirit of Wally lives on. 

Fortis Forever, Forever Fortis.                

May his soul rest in peace.

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