April 2020 Volume 16

Douglas Forrest A Man for All Seasons

Peter Maxwell
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On October 26, 2010 in the St. Augustine Chapel, 2A North Street, Kingston, Peter Maxwell, former Kingston College Head Boy (1956 – 1957), delivered the second in the series of the Kingston College Old Boys Association sponsored Douglas Forrest Lectures, before an enthralled audience of students, teachers, wells wishers and old boys.

This lecture traced the illustrious life and career of Mr. Douglas Forrest – the second principal of Kingston College.

As the President of the KCOB local chapter, Dr. Ray “Cheeko” Fraser noted in his opening remarks, these series of four lectures will be geared to shine light on various aspects of the school and its icons.

Dr. Fraser stated that “…the first lecture in the series was delivered by Reverend Don Taylor as part of the Founders Week observance, and highlighted the life and work of Bishop Percival Gibson, the founder and first principal of Kingston College..”.

He added that “…in the ensuing months, other lectures will be delivered by we anticipate lectures by Messrs. Neville “Teddy” McCook and Basil “Bagga” Wilson….”.

Board chairman, Stephen Vasciannie cited the series as a 'masterstroke' and commended KCOBA Jamaica for its fitting choice of Peter Maxwell as the guest lecturer on Mr. Forrest.

Maxwell who was a civics master at his alma mater Kingston College during the '60s and '70s, was introduced by Dr. Patrick Dallas who was one of his former students.

Dr. Dallas recalled Mr. Maxwell as an all-round teacher who exposed him to literature, philosophy, drama and poetry.

An exhibition of photos featuring the life and times of the Mr. Forrest was put together by the Kingston College Key Club and Michael Bennett was fittingly on display in the chapel.

Below is an edited version of Mr. Maxwell's lecture.

Douglas Forrest Address – October 26, 2010

Chairman, Dr. Ray Fraser, Board Chairman, Professor Stephen Vasciannie, honoured guests, Headmaster Mr. Burrell, staff and boys of Kingston College, old boys, ladies and gentlemen.

Let me invite you to travel with me back to Saturday last, a hundred years ago, and along Jamaica’s south coast to the town of Black River in St Elizabeth.

Here a little boy is celebrating his third birthday.

Douglas Wrexham Eric Forrest was born on the 22nd of October, 1908, to Stafford and Mabel Forrest of St. Elizabeth.

I picture this little boy, the third of their five children, with his new shovel and pail, stuffing a seed into the ground and willing it to grow.

This seems to me, the image on which to pin the lifetime of Douglas Forrest, because he encouraged growth around him.

Black River a hundred years ago, was a major seaport and commercial centre, second in importance only to Kingston.

In 1893, it was the first town in Jamaica to be lit by electricity…and in 1903, the first car in Jamaica was offloaded at the seaport town of Black River.

Black River had the island's first telephone exchange and the best horse racing track in the Caribbean.

This was where young Douglas grew up, surrounded by numerous examples of progress and growth around him.

When he was twelve, young Forrest, like his older brother, won a parish scholarship to Munro College.

But because there was no space for him at Munro, he had to attend Cornwall for his first term.

Within a few months, however, he was to be introduced to the stiff boarding school routine of Munro College, its cold walls set proudly on the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, some thirty miles from home.

For five years, he enjoyed and endured, the privilege of a secondary education that was to lead not to the rapid attainment of wealth or position that many others aspired to, but to a patient career of selfless service in the classrooms of a single school, a hundred miles away.

As he grew into a strapping six-footer at Munro, we picture him mastering the arts subjects, with French as his particular love, and proving himself on the tennis courts around which the sturdy buildings of the college clustered.

At home and at school, his attraction to music was fostered, and by the age of seventeen, a thoroughly rounded young man was ready to move on to the world of work, and to brave the challenges of the far-off capital city of Kingston.

The young plant that was Kingston College, had been thriving – some would say 'striving' – for just over a year in the old All Saints Rectory building on East Street when young Mr. Forrest, not yet eighteen, joined the staff.

Scarcely more than a boy, this tall, untested figure dared to take his place beside the fiery Canon Gibson and worked tirelessly with him to nurture this brave new school.

He honed his teaching skills at KC on East Street between 1926 and 1934, and then at the new facilities at Clovelly Park where he succeeded George Clough as Second-Master in 1935.

And he, like Mr. Clough, took a particular interest in cultivating an appreciation of music among the boys of the school.

In 1950, when writing about music in the school for the Silver Jubilee Souvenir Album, Mr. Forrest chronicled the contributions of piano virtuosos of the 1930s, like Robert Hay and George Clough, along with the choral leadership of a Second Form teacher, Mrs. Ashman who was followed by Edeline Soutar in the early 1940s, and then George Goode.

With characteristic modesty, he said of himself, "…Now that Mr. Goode is no longer with us, the training of the choir has been undertaken by enthusiastic amateurs. ... If the standard of singing is not as high as it was under Mr. Goode, the boys are still as keen as ever on singing..."

And of course, chief among the 'enthusiastic amateurs' was Douglas Forrest himself.

He devoted countless hours to the chapel choir's rehearsals, its leadership at regular Sunday morning services, special performances at school functions, annual Christmas carol services, and by invitation, at selected churches across the island.

Mr. Forrest also encouraged the appreciation of classical music by staging Friday evening concerts of recorded music in those pre-television days and later, at his famous series of lunch-hour concerts.

The interest generated in instrumental music led to the building of a school orchestra, with Oswald “Ossie” Murray, and then Barrington “Barry” Reckord being members and then leaders of the twenty-strong group in the 1940s and early 1950s.

And there was Douglas Forrest, willing them all to grow.

By 1948, when I first encountered Mr. Forrest, he was the omnipresent Second Master of a staff of about thirty teachers, much respected for his wielding of the cane.

He was by then, a renowned French teacher, the trainer and conductor of the chapel choir, and a formidable figure on the tennis court in after-school challenges from other teachers like Mr. B. E. Phillips and Mr. Ripton Bailey.

In that staff of thirty, there were three women at that time – Miss Fox, Miss McNab and Miss Campbell.

The latter was a kind and gentle French teacher who loved music and even sang solos with the chapel choir.

With our small-boys' logic, we mused that she and Mr. Forrest were destined to be together.

We were devastated when that English teacher from England, Mr. Peter Orr, came and snatched her from under his nose! Mr. Orr would never be forgiven by us boys.

It was clear to us, too, that Mr. Forrest's powerful forehand strokes on the tennis court were mere practice for the cane strokes that would descend on the outstretched palms of any of us careless enough to get caught in the wrong place, or reported for a wrong deed.

In my early years in what was then a prep department, located downstairs Hardie House and across from this chapel, the warning, "Dougs a-come!" would send us scurrying for safety.

At times we were not quick enough, and our hands had to be stretched out to face four quick strokes from his cane.

That was in the days when corporal punishment was accepted without question as the norm for schoolboys (and even pre-pubertal girls).

Those administering the cane remained convinced of its effectiveness as a deterrent, in spite of the regularity with which those caned, turned up for further canings!

In January 2010, however, the Ministry of Education had developed a Green Paper on Safe School Policy, which will abolish the use of corporal punishment among other things, in all schools.

It will be replaced with alternative and preferable means of correction, we understand. Times have certainly changed!

As my classmates and I advanced through the forms, we came into contact with Mr. Forrest the French teacher, whose lessons were experiences to be remembered.

Who could forget learning the order of French pronouns and adverbs by noting that 'y' comes before 'en' – as every donkey knows! ('y en': 'hee-haw').

And in an effort to explain puns and ambiguities in some class or other, there was the riddle: “…Why is an open door like a moth flying around a candle flame?...If it keeps on its hinges it swings!..." he declared with a huge grin, and a sniff!

The French classes frequently led the more proficient pupils into taking part in the French Drama Festival, for which Mr. Forrest directed play after play – usually scenes from Molière's satirical comedies – holding rehearsals at his home off the Eastwood Park Road when necessary, sometimes late into the evening, obliging his dear mother to put up with these rehearsals.

The feeling sometimes, was that acting in the plays was almost more important than studying for the French exams.

The fact is that KC enjoyed an enviable reputation when it came to the excellence of our spoken French, and of our drama festivals.

I can still remember the performance of the brilliant Edward 'Bumpy' Clark who was later memorialized on the south wall of our chapel – playing the hypochondriac in Molière's Le Malade Imaginaire; that of John Blackwood as the trickster in Les Fourberies de Scapin; and that of Richard Fatta as the manipulative Docteur Knock, in Jules Romains's play of the same name.

The French Drama Festival was conducted by the Jamaican branch of the Alliance Française, of which Mr. Forrest had been a founding member.

For his contributions to teaching French and his work at the Alliance, he was later knighted by the Government of France...a fact that was not known by many people.

Mr. Forrest's devotion to the chapel choir knew no bounds.

For years he shared the organist's duties with the mathematics teacher Hugh Moss-Solomon, while training the choristers in long hours of painstaking rehearsals, for the never-ending roster of services and performances.

The choir that he nurtured grew in sound and in spirit, and its first recordings came in the early 1950s with some 78 rpm samples, and then two 33 rpm albums.

These recordings were made in this chapel, the result of ambitious experimentation in those early days of vinyl recording.

From them, we savoured the clear treble descants ofNorman Byfield and the sure tenor solos of Anton Walker, embedded in carefully modulated choral renditions of hymns and carols.

By that time, the choir had welcomed the expertise of Mr. Barry Davies, an English organist and choirmaster, who teamed up with Mr. Forrest and helped to make the KC Chapel Choir the symbol of excellence in its field.

On the occasion of the school's 75thanniversary in 2000, the choir produced a double CD album fittingly titled “ In Memory of Mr. Douglas Forrest”.

This excellence remains today as exhibited by the new Songs of Praise CD launched last month under the direction of current choirmaster, Audley Davidson.

The late 1940s and the early 1950s were years of particular vibrancy on the sports fields at KC.

I don't remember actually hearing Bishop Gibson and Mr. Forrest boasting about our dominance, but I am sure that they must have done so!

Our Manning Cup and Olivier Shield football teams were the stuff of legends – with people like captain Freddie'Bessie' Green, and BarringtonBarry” Watson (a consummate artist with the ball as well as the paintbrush), working their magic on the forward line,D. P. Beckford controlling the midfield, and young Lawson Douglas (not yet Professor of Urology) refusing to let the ball into his goal.

This was the kind of team that beat St. George's at Sabina Park after being down by one goal five minutes from the end of the game!

Our track and field athletes – AudleyTeddy” Hewett and the remarkableMabricio “Mauve” Ventura among them; D. P. Beckford, Roy “McDirty” McLean and their cricketers, tennis players of the ilk of Lance Lumsden and Richard Russell, and swimmers Paul Nash and the Bennett brothers – all made us “purple proud” in that period!

We note with satisfaction the enduring influence on Jamaica's sports administration that has emerged from our sportsmen of that period – people like Neville “Teddy” McCook, Howard “Fudge” Aris, Freddie “Bessie” Green and George Thompson.

My stint as headboy spanned the passing of the headmaster's baton from Bishop Gibson to Mr. Forrest early in 1956.

The changes were hardly noticeable really, as Mr. Forrest had increasingly been managing much of the day-to-day running of the school, particularly once it became clear that he was expected to take over.

In preparation for his new role, he had in fact, travelled to Europe in 1951 to add appropriate degree qualifications to the French Diplomas of Paris and London that he had earlier acquired.

It is clear that Bishop Gibson was absolutely certain that Mr. Forrest was his logical successor.

He was not a clergyman, but he was a practising member of the Anglican community; he had stood at the Bishop's side for thirty years, serving as second-master for twenty of them, contributing massively to the development of the growing plant that was the school; he was highly respected and admired, not only within the KC family, but in the musical and Francophile communities, the sporting fraternity, the educational sphere, and in the society at large.

It was at the time of his succession, I suppose, that I became conscious that there was something not quite so invulnerable, hidden beneath the reassuring confidence that Mr. Forrest had always seem to exude.

It was in February 1956 that he was named headmaster.

He led morning worship in this chapel in the same stentorian tones he had used for decades as Second Master.

This was a special day for him, and shortly after leaving the chapel he joined Edward 'Bumpy' Clark, then a junior member of staff, and myself, a sixth-former, where we were rolling off some material on the Gestetner copying machine upstairs in the passage leading to Hardie House.

"…Well, Edward…," he began expectantly , "…how did I do with the prayers this morning…?"

Clark had a twinkle in his eye. "…To tell the truth, Sir," he said somewhat timidly , "it rather sounded as if you were telling the Lord what to do!..."

Only 'Bumpy' Clark could have got away with saying something like that.

Shortly after, our new headmaster got himself a car – a Ford Prefect.

The only problem was that he didn’t know how to drive.

For some months, therefore, he depended on a not altogether unwilling sixth-former (i.e. myself) who had recently obtained his driver’s licence, to do various errands around the city…things like picking up forgetful choirboys for rehearsals, or taking the Vendryes Shield team of history buffs to the “12 Apostles' Battery” at Hellshire to do research.

At another level, I was given an insight into the unexpected workings of Mr. Forrest's mind.

His Christian faith shone through the earnestness of his worship, and particularly in his devotion to the music that accompanied it.

As headmaster and renowned disciplinarian however, he was not always comfortable with the authority he was entrusted with.

I remember his telling me in the mid-1950s that he had been instructed by the Board of Governors, as it was then, to expel two boys for some egregious offence against a teacher. "…You know Maxwell," he said, "If God treated us as severely as we treated each other, we wouldn't stand much of a chance…!"

Not everybody would agree that this consideration for the feelings of others was evenly exhibited.

Some would say that the miscreants of the worst kind were the ones who benefited most from his legendary generosity.

What is remembered by generations of his pupils – saints and sinners alike – however, is his even-handed justice, the absence of any social-class bias, and his self-sacrificing attention to the needs of individuals in distress.

By the time he took over as headmaster in 1956, KC had become the largest secondary school in the island, numbering all of seven hundred pupils!

Today, of course, few schools of any kind are less than twice that size, and the powers that be do not seem to recognize that this is a major cause of the administrative and disciplinary difficulties faced in our stumbling education system.

With seven hundred boys on the roll, it was possible to know each one of them, as many teachers and prefects did.

In the years just before Independence, the Government introduced the Common Entrance Examination, offering admission to the forty or so high schools for the two thousand children who performed best.

The demand for places was, of course, much greater, and since few if any new schools were being built, the answer was to increase the size of existing schools.

In 1964, KC was fortunate in being able to split its numbers between the Clovelly campus on North Street and the newly acquired Melbourne campus on Upper Elletson Road.

The persistent demand for more places led to the establishment of an 'extension school' at Melbourne, which was later absorbed into the College proper, and today the numbers hover around the two thousand mark.

This growth has brought a thousand and one challenges.

The 1970s

You get to know people better as you work with them in different roles, and see their reactions to various situations.

I never faltered in the respect and admiration I held for this giant among teachers – who influenced my development no less than Stafford Isaac-Henry, KC's “pigeon-chested” cadet officer who went on to lead St. Andrew Technical High School so successfully.

But I did see chinks in the “Forrestian” armour when I joined the KC staff in 1970, though not the feet of clay that one or two insist were there.

By 1970, the College had some fourteen hundred pupils, and the three hundred fifth-formers at North Street knew that no teacher knew them all!

There were new challenges all around, with the Black Power movement firing class, colour, and anti-establishment tensions in the wider society and within the school.

The English language became a victim of this cultural insurgency, as did normal disciplinary procedures in the school.

The very affable Ivan “Wally” Johnson whom we recently laid to rest, then sportsmaster, became targeted as 'the Beast' – the sobriquet attached to the police of the day – when he insisted on rules being observed, rather than looking the other way as so many did.

This must have been a particularly difficult time for Douglas Forrest, who was now at retirement age, and did not seem quite as sure-footed as he had been, when it came to meeting the new challenges.

One unnerving experience to him, was on a week-end when he spotted a stranger in the newly operational swimming pool at the southern end of the playfield, and went to remonstrate with him, only to be greeted with a jeer from the intruder as he swam over to where he had parked his gun at the edge of the pool.

The early seventies were, nevertheless, a time of continuing achievement for the College, as the sports teams remained in contention in just about every competition, while Frances Phillips, (soon after to be Mrs. Coke), with her Schools' Challenge squads (our present Board Chairman numbered among them) became stars of the small screen, and the cadets with their marching band, and the chapel choir, and the drama groups – both English and French – continued to impress and entertain.

In all of this, Douglas Forrest remained a highly respected figure, at KC and in the wider society.

We continued to see the little brown cardboard 'Dulcimina' grips brought out of the car each morning, much to the consternation of poor little Miss Buckley in the office – proclaiming industriousness that was not exactly tidy or organized, but strangely fruitful, nevertheless.

There was the faithful dog that trotted at his heels, perhaps awaiting the command to return to the KC coat of arms? The plants increasingly earned his loving attention, as he spent long evenings, and often week-end hours, tending them, while keeping an ear open for any call for assistance or to duty.

There were also the voluntary extra classes – in mathematics, surprisingly – and, of course, encouragement for the choir and the other extra-curricular activities of the busy school around him.

Delegating authority is one of the real problems that face administrators, who are so often tempted to do everything themselves, especially if they have been let down by someone given a responsibility.

Perhaps this accounts for a perception on the part of some teachers in those later years that Mr. Forrest had a compulsion to attend to every aspect of the plant by himself.

There were two sides to this man – the forceful authoritarian taskmaster who could inspire fear, and silence a class with a look; and the softer, compassionate, confidential figure, whose arm around the shoulder spoke of a kindly concern for the weak and the sorrowing.

The indignant outburst stridently condemning some dishonest or insulting behaviour was often to be balanced by the quiet reasoning, the genuine concern, and the practical assistance given to the youth in distress – sometimes the very same individual.

No wonder so many old boys remember him as nothing less than a caring and benevolent father!

But these contradictory aspects of him were confusing to some, who distrusted what they saw as inconsistency, and felt that the confidences shared with individuals were perhaps at the expense of others.

There were teachers who felt that Mr. Forrest's sympathy for the boys sometimes led him to undermine the discipline imposed by his colleagues.

His devotion to the school was, some felt, too complete….If he was present and in charge on the North Street premises every day until past sunset, what was the point in having teachers appointed to late duty?

At the same time, Douglas Forrest was widely admired, and under his modest leadership the school grew and prospered.

It might be gentleness that marked his concern for the boy going wrong.

His self-effacing, charming shyness suggested a mild nature, sensitive to the subtleties of music and painting, while open and generous in the face of need or distress.

Yet equally there was force — not only in his powerful build and the memories of vigorous tennis or the stroke of a cane, but in his long, energetic hours of work, in his many shrewd observations and in the mysterious unorthodoxy which he wielded with such strange effectiveness.

The true authoritarian melted into the kindly humanist, and kept his power.

The sense of drama and the quick humour that made events out of his lessons and choristers out of rascals: these also were part of the magic.

It was in 1971, approaching the age of 63, that Mr. Forrest took his retirement.

The tributes paid to him were many.

He was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica, and commendation came from the Anglican Church, from the KC Old Boys' Association here in Jamaica and in branches overseas, as well as from various other sectors of the society.

This was not to signal a separation from the College, however, as Mr. Forrest was to continue teaching here for a further twenty years, offering classes, particularly in mathematics, and quietly continuing to give support to individuals and to school activities.

He was at first living in the Anglican flats at St. Peter's Court on Tom Redcam Avenue, and I recall being invited there to assist in the rehearsal of a play for the French drama festival (he thought I knew something about sword-fighting).

It was there, too, that he worked long hours composing and completing a communion service setting of his own, inspired, no doubt, by the Harold Darke setting he had so lovingly coached the chapel choir to render, year after year, at Sunday services here in the chapel.

In this post-retirement period, too, he took on the role of choirmaster of the St. Andrew Parish Church junior choir, giving as always a combination of his tasteful musicianship and his strong faith, willing the musical witness to grow.

By the year 1991, Mr. Forrest's health had deteriorated somewhat, and he relinquished his teaching duties at his school – one he had served for some sixty-five years.

He was then living with the family of his sister, Mrs. Fennell, mother of the internationally respected sports administrator, Mike Fennell.

He continued to enjoy the respect, admiration and gratitude of thousands of those who had passed through Kingston College, as well as the teachers he had mentored – not least among them his near-namesake, French-teacher Helen Douglas, who, as vice-principal, often heard startled small boys give out "…Dougie a-come…!"

When Douglas Forrest passed on in 1995, we are told that both houses of parliament rose to pay him homage.

He has been memorialized at the school by the naming of the administrative block after him – and we note that earlier this year plans were unveiled for the expansion of that Douglas Forrest Building.

In November 1999, his interest in tennis was commemorated with the staging of a Forrest Memorial Tennis Classic, while five years later, the athletics fraternity inaugurated the Douglas Forrest Invitational Meet, which has grown, alongside the Gibson Relays, to be next in local importance only to the Inter-schools Athletics Championships.

The chapel choir remains the proud guardians of the precepts and high standards fostered by Mr. Forrest over several decades, while the multitude of those of us who passed under his care and guidance number, we are told, something like ten thousand.

Also pupils at KC in the 1950s, as I was - AmbassadorAnthony Johnson, Professors Winston Davidson and Horace Banbury, in tributes to Mr. Forrest recorded by the Old Boys' Association on Internet websites in recent years, agree that among his most memorable qualities were his absolute lack of any kind of prejudice, and his firm but fair treatment of offenders.

For many, we are assured, he was the father figure they tried hard not to disappoint.

Another 1950s colleague, Victor Chang, the man who lectured on anything literary at the UWI, admits that it is to Douglas Forrest that he owes his strong sense of duty, his expanded interest in music, his passion for language and his desire to be a teacher.

And he has reminded me of the number of principals serving at other schools, that KC produced from its staff, suggesting that they may have learnt some of their approaches by watching Mr. Forrest at work – Cornwall's Barrett, and later Crick, Glenmuir's Scott, St. Jago's Bell, and later Edwards, St. Mary's Cargill, Holmwood's Winston Johnson, Port Antonio Secondary School's Freda Hanson, Ferncourt's Bell, and later Hay, Buff Bay Secondary School's Ramsay, Camperdown's Noel Whyte, Ruseas's Frater, and later Wesley White, José Martí's Earle, later of Ascot and Calabar, Charlie Smith's Bailey, the VTDI's Dyer, Church Teachers College's Bishop Murray, St. Andrew Technical's Isaac-Henry, Richmond Park Prep School's Helen Douglas, and, of course, KC's Taylor, MacNab, and later Wally Johnson.

It has been suggested that Kingston College may be likened to a great tree, growing with a wildness that comes from nature and has a beauty of its own.

The fruits of the tree are many and they are sweet, because the tree has been fondly nourished and its creative force is permitted full rein.

Perhaps the analogy is generous. But if there is such a tree, and if the fruits are indeed sweet, then there could have been no more devoted gardener than Douglas Wrexham Eric Forrest.

Peter Maxwell

October 26, 2010

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