With the death and burial recently of one of my high school teachers, Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher, I started to purposefully reflect on my times at St Martin’s Secondary School in Kingstown, St Vincent and the Grenadines. It was the best a boy could get in terms of a quality education at a conducive and learner friendly environment.
I entered St Martin’s in September 1987 and I can honestly say that the next five years were among the very best years of my entire life. They were really golden years. This is a sentiment being echoed by many of my classmates and schoolmates who were privileged to be enrolled at the institution in that golden era. Prior to 1987 I had never known or heard about St Martin’s; however, it was after I was only one of two boys from Evesham Methodist School lucky enough to pass the 1987 Common Entrance exam that my teachers told me about St Martin’s.
I was immediately excited and thrilled about the prospects of attending a “town school” because it would mean that I would be riding vans every day. Vehicles and rides were scarce luxuries in the Evesham of 1987. I can still vividly remember jumping up and down when I got the confirmation slip from the Ministry of Education that said I would be going to St Martin’s Secondary School.
One of the first challenges was having to be in “town” on my own. So far, the only place I went to on my own was the village next door. So my brother and mother accompanied me to the school on registration day. That event happened in the library. It was my first time meeting the Christian Brothers—Br. Alfred Marshall was the principal and conducted the exercise himself. Up to that point I had only seen “white people” on TV and so it dawned on me that my world was really expanding.
That summer we were invited to attend Math classes being taught by Mr Bradley Brooker. I shall always remember walking out the gate after the first session and realizing I was lost because I had not memorized the immediate street. Panic gripped me but then a voice said to me just follow the other students and see where they go. That idea got me back on the right track.
I would never lose my way again.
The rest of the summer was a new adventure everyday. As I began meeting the other boys I realized that I was meeting children from all over St Vincent and the Grenadines. We shared our respective memories of our various primary schools at every chance we got.
Then the 1987 school year began. During the summer there was just a handful of us new students—about twenty or so—but on the first day of school I felt totally lost at the awesome sight of literally hundreds of boys in blue and white. It was like I walked into an ants nest of blue and white. I had no idea what to do, where to go, who to talk to. So guess what I did?
I followed the students who were in front of me when I entered the gate. So I stayed in that bright blue and white traffic. I kept climbing the steps. On the second flight of stairs, a friend I made at the summer lessons, Clinty Joseph, was on his way down. He said to me, “Is you I coming to look for you know. Come see where our class is.”
If there ever was a Godsend, that was Clinty right there!
He told me to check on the door to see which of the two form ones I was in. Back then the class lists were placed on the doors. I scanned the first list and found my name. Clinty could not be happier because he, too, was on that list.
Even though I had been at summer school, the classrooms looked quite different. They were cleaner and shone just as brightly as the uniforms and book bags of the new students occupying them. As the years went by I would later learn and see that it was Mr Butcher who used his summer to lead a school painting taskforce every year.
One of the first things that struck me about my new class was that it was so roomy and clean. It had louvers on both sides and so very well ventilated. I smiled to myself. I already loved my new school. When I later heard a man speaking over a speaker I was astonished. The school had a PA system. I automatically gave the school two thumbs up and all five stars!
St Martin’s Secondary School (SMSS) was a family. I saw that in operation every day. There was a real sense of caring and sharing. Looking back, nobody seemed vexed with you or having “bad mind” as the youths say of themselves these days. There were 38 students in my Form 1 Set 2 and I honestly can say there were no “haters” in that large group.
St Martin’s taught me a lot about friendships from day 1. I had met Marlon Roberts who lived in Questelles and had attended the Petersville Primary School. I tried sneaking up behind him one break time to cover his eyes with my hands. It was a game we played. But somehow Marlon must have known I was there because he turned around just as I was about to clamp my hands over his eyes.
What happened next I would never forget. The plan backfired in that my finger got in his eye and he was immediately upset. He said: “Alyo man always a do stupidness you know!”
I felt so guilty and embarrassed that I ran away and tried my best to avoid him from then on. Then a day or two afterwards it was Marlon who sneaked up on me and actually apologized to me. That showed me who a real friend was. It was the first time in my life another person was apologizing to me.
Marlon did one other thing that year to make me understand friends are really people who care about your best interests. It happened when our Algebra teacher, Mr Best, had given us the option of attending either algebra or camera lessons after school. I went in the camera group, which had upper form students.
After a while Marlon came over to me and he said, “Ashford, you can always learn to use a camera you know, but you can’t always learn how to do algebra.”
That struck me to the core.
Never before had anyone analysed my actions and given me advice for my benefit. Additionally, because it came from somebody my own age, I was totally impressed and realized I had a real friend. Without saying a word, I left the camera group and joined my friend in the algebra lessons.
In those days we used to have what we call a “Special Schedule” on Fridays. Classes lasted only 35 minutes. There was no break; however, lunch was from 10:40 to 11:15. School used to over at 1:25 PM every Friday.
Our Form Master, Mr Kelly, used to stay back with us and do fun activities. Often, we would join with the students from Form 1 Set 1 and their Form Master. That is how I learned to make and fly a kite.
Other notable experiences that first year included getting licks for doing home work in class. Mr Sarkar was the Dean of discipline. Homework was to be done at home. The first time Mr Sarkar came to teach us Geography, he wrote four Ss on the board. The first S meant “stand up”. The second S meant “shut up”; the third S meant “Sarkar”, and the fourth S was for “Sir”.
It was not that he just wrote and told us about these Ss. He bellowed them to us new terrified students. I could have sworn I was in the military! I won’t be surprised if some boys with bladder problems did wet their pants that morning.
But Mr Sarkar also wrote four other letters on the board. H.A.R.P. That would prove to be his motto for teaching. The letters stood for Honesty, Ambition, Respect and Pride.
We enjoyed Geography class after that unforgettable introduction.
St Martin’s Secondary School gave us local boys a chance to meet people from around the world. Mr Kelly, for example, was a young American who was volunteering a year teaching us English. There were different volunteers each year. We also met other boys who were in St Vincent but citizens from overseas—from Caribbean islands to America and Canada.
As we did our work we soon realized that our teachers wanted us to also have fun. There were times when all we did was just tell jokes and old talk.
And we did not just learn about the academic syllabus. I remember the first time I experienced a sex education lesson was from Mr Butcher in his form four Social Studies class. Up until then I didn’t think teachers ever talked about sex or relationships in class with students. But it helped us. It was a real life lesson.
In a Form 3 Religion class, Br Robert made us all sit up with mouths open and eyes popping out of our heads. He began his lesson: “What does somebody really mean when they say fuck you?”
No body slept in that class.
St Martin’s Secondary School made a name for itself in sports as well. Apart from the usual inter-House and Inter-School athletics events, we were a force to be reckoned with on the football and cricket field as well. In 1990 the St Martin’s football team won the finals of the secondary schools football competition after beating the Bethel High School. I still can see students like Curtis Greaves (now principal of the Emmanuel High School in Mesopotamia) stamping the wooden stands at the Victoria Park so passionately that I really was expecting the stands to collapse.
In 1991, the St Martin’s football team was back in the finals of the secondary schools football tournament. We faced off against the Barrouallie Secondary School. The match went into overtime and the boys had to have penalty shootouts. Christmas came early at St Martin’s that year because we won the game and were football champions for two years in a row! We all left the Victoria Park pretty hoarse that day.
That same year, in 1991, Mr Brooker led the St Martin’s cricket team to the finals of the secondary schools cricket competition. NBC Radio, back then known as 705 Radio, broadcasted the match live. I remember clearly, sportscaster Mike Findlay asking student Grant Connell (yes, he is the lawyer of today) who he believes will win the match. And Grant simply told him that St Martin’s already has it wrapped up. Mike was just impressed by the smarts of the St Martin’s student.
St Martin’s secondary School did win the 1991 secondary schools cricket championship. So in that year we were both football and cricket champions of all the secondary schools in St Vincent and the Grenadines!
But it didn’t end there. In 1992, guess who was back in the finals of the secondary schools football competition? Yes, St Martin’s. And guess which school we came up against? None other than the St Vincent Boys Grammar School. Now this was poised to be an interesting and historic match indeed. You see, there was always this unspoken competition between the Grammar School and St Martin’s to see which of these two all-boys schools was really number one. Because the match was played at the end of the calendar year, my group had already graduated from St Martin’s. In fact we were now in 6th Form (what is now called Community College).
The sole Sixth Form on the island was attached to the Grammar School. Nonetheless my classmates, St Clair “Herbie” Stapleton, Ronnie Daniel, Harold Lewis, Sheldon Venner, and I, all came to support St Martin’s that afternoon. Now our Sixth Form teacher came and sat among us in the section with St Martin’s students. As if that was not odd enough, she had the Grammar School flag. I just felt she was “in enemy territory”. She made the mistake of waving the flag when Grammar School had made a goal and all I saw was the Grammar School flag flying in mid air to the ground at the front of the stand. Almost immediately someone ran and tossed it into a green garbage bin nearby.
The entire stand erupted in an uproar that would have drowned out any Carnival Monday jam.
By the end of the game St Martin’s Secondary School had created history by winning the secondary schools football championship for three years in a row! And we did it by beating the St Vincent Grammar School. Coach Gary Thomas had really worked very hard. Players such as Rohan Keizer, Dominique Stowe, Terry Anderson, Jimi Jack and Maxion Richardson, among others on the team, really were top football players in the country, even though they were teenagers.
This is the football team that won the 3rd title
Now, just before we had graduated in June of 1992, our graduating class also did something that I don’t believe any other graduating class has done. We re-enacted the finals of the football championship between the the champs, St Martin’s, and the opponents in the finals, the Barrouallie Secondary School in a floodlight football match at Victoria Park. The moon was out in all its glory. We had students picking up ticket monies. We had students in charge of Bar be que. We had students manning the bar. It was an unforgettable night. Oh yes, I was responsible for getting the event advertised and so Chester Connell, a past student of St Martin’s who was a top radio announcer at 705 Radio at the time, did the ad for us.
There are so very many other precious memories from St Martin’s. It struck me during times when school was closed that other students who were not from my class would actually say hello to me whenever and wherever we met. That comforted me so much. I knew I was not just a student in a school. I was a brother in a large family.
Up to this day those of us who grew up at the school in that era, refer to each other as “Brother”.
And we saw it even as the news spread of the death of Mr Butcher. Old boys came to the funeral dressed in their St Martin’s uniform. I was one of them. Seeing all the other people associated with the golden era of St Martin’s made tears come to my eyes.
Mr Butcher’s body leaving the Anglican Church in Kingstown
We were mightily blessed to have been at St Martin’s in those times. A lot has changed over the years. The Christian Brothers are no longer in St Vincent. That wonderful cadre of men and women that comprised the teaching staff has long since disbanded to various other endeavours in life.
I know many of us past students wish that our St Martin’s was still engulfed in that magical atmosphere of love, hope and excellent academic pursuits and results. We may not be able to wave a magic wand and reverse the hand of time but what we can do is let the spirit of SMSS live in all of us.
St Martin’s role was to prepare us for life. That is what Mr Butcher was eagerly doing over all those years of his life. So it is up to us to live out the life lessons we learned within it’s happy walls. It was encouraging this year that the child who came first in the CPEA—the exam that replaced the Common Entrance exam, is the son of a past student of St Martin’s Secondary School.
Let us all use whatever talents we have and make our mark. We can still change the world. I believe in doing so, the present crop of students and teachers at St Martin’s will see the rich legacy of the school powerfully at work and that will keep inspiring them to up their game as well.
I end this lengthy but necessary post with the very words Ezekiel “Scatter” Butcher wrote in my graduation souvenir book when I graduated in 1992:
“Go placidly amidst the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. All the best. May your inspiration come from the Lord at all times.”