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1993 A Decade of Change


Many regard whirlwinds as a necessary discomfort-like those stingy little dust-devils in August-harbingers, they say, of good rain: they excite some of us, bemuse others and, inevitably, leave a number of us ruffled; the whirlwind's force leaves no corner untouched, but may be to fleeting to lift or the dust of discontent. Whether one enjoyed or resented the experience, Alan Megahey was a whirlwind. It wasn't long before labels like " Human Dynamo", Ideas Man " and " Workaholic " were attached to the new Rector who, it was soon discovered, had the capacity to inspire some and drag others - at all hours of the day and night - into the vortices of his ideas and plans. Change was almost always seem as developmental, ultimately constructive, though there were undeniably those - ignominiously swept out of cosy niches, perhaps, who felt as Richard Hooker did in the 16th century. "Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better." Despite this, the Megahey era will undoubtedly be looked upon as a decade of change.

Bricks and mortar
The most conspicuous relics of this ten - year period are of course to be seen in fabric - bricks and mortar - and these developments extended well beyond what must originally have been perceived as the parameters of Rectorship: the expansion of what was formerly 'Junior House' at Springvale to become Springvale House, our own co-educational Preparatory School; the very considerable modification and enlargement of Springvale itself to accommodate Peterhouse Girls', following a three-year period as our Lower School; the establishment of Tinokura as a 'buffer-zone' between the sanctuary of Primary School and life-in-the-raw of school boarding houses; new science laboratories; the computer system; refurbishment of the school library and dining halls; establishing and equipping the Design Centre, with facilities for visual arts, pottery, technical graphics, metalwork and woodwork; new maintenance workshops and stores; setting in train a never-ending process of refurbishing and upgrading boarding-house accommodation. Sports facilities on each campus also required significant extension. Along with all this came the need for additional staff housing. As Alan Megahey leaves, two major physical developments remain in the pipeline: these comprise the Sports Centre - a substantial complex centred around existing swimming, squash and basketball facilities - and extension of the Administration Block into what will be known as the Humphrey Gibbs Centre, with associated restructuring of service roads and facilitates. The whirlwind hasn't settled yet!

The 'Megahey Idea'
Whilst some might argue that many of these developments would have occurred anyway, irrespective of whoever held the Rectorial reins, most of them their owe their existence to a 'Megahey Idea' - often right down to the choice of curtaining fabric. His involvement was passionate until his own whirlwind swept him off to the next project. Just as importantly, there were other changes, new ideas and developments which, whilst less tangible, reflected-on a more personal level, perhaps - Alan Megahey's sense of direction for Peterhouse.

Exposing the world to Peterhouse
Heading this list of his achievements must be the subtle softening of racial polarisation which was still so conspicuous in the early eighties as an aftermath to the troubled seventies: today it is almost patronising to talk of the racial harmony which exists at Peterhouse. "Colour-blindness" would be closer to the truth for the Peterhouse pupils of the nineties. There is nothing for which members of this school - past and present - can be more thankful and proud, than this policy of Alan Megahey's influence. As Rector - Alan also deed much to exhibit a "civilising " and " broadening " influence: cultural activities enjoyed his enthusiastic support and occasional involvement (most notably - of course - in his zany and fantastical pantomimes!) On his arrival here in 1984 it must have been strikingly obvious how insular both this country and Peterhouse had become since UDI had cut us of from the rest of the world in the mid-sixties. He would have found himself in a community where a lot of people still regarded Zimbabwe as the centre of the universe. It was largely through his inspiration and effort that the eyes of the school were opened to the outside world. A tidal wave of information material was made available through the BBC - a vastly increased spread of publications in the library, and a wide range of General Studies courses for the Upper School. In addition, the " junior " master and mistress programme attracting school leavers from overseas also helped to expose pupils to what were (usually!) positive influences and perspectives from abroad, as did both teacher recruitment and pupil acceptance from outside this country.

Academic performance
During this period a determined bid was made to improve academic performance - a need which was energetically supported by the academic staff, but which was complicated by Alan's reluctance to be inflexibly selective and 'elitist' on purely academic grounds either at first-year entry or, indeed, to A level. There are many who, perhaps unwittingly, were accepted because of (rather than in spite of) a 'difficult' past: some 'came right' spectacularly - others did not. In either case, parents and staff were encouraged to see the effort as been worthwhile. O level results over these years improved steadily, to the point where this school is among the front-runners in Zimbabwe. On the other hand, whilst recognising the need for as broad a band of top grades as possible at A level, Alan Megahey was frequently in the firing-line from Sixth Form teachers for what some felt were excessively generous entry rights to A level courses (by national standards the Peterhouse pass rate at A level, approaching 70%, is acceptable, but top grades have been scarce.) Wherever possible, however, Alan believed that Peterhouse pupils should be given the opportunity to complete a well-rounded education-and in this he was warming and gratefully supported by parents, if not always by teaching staff. This dichotomy led eventually to the establishment of post O level practical courses - several of which were certificated by the school - which allowed some academically borderline pupils to benefit from an extra productive year at school.

Schools with a keen sense of hierarchy, particularly amongst boys, almost invariably find that this manifest itself in a sharply defined pecking-order which in turn can all too easily turn into victimisation and prosecution of young or mildly 'eccentric' boys. At what point this can be labelled as bullying is a grey-area of interpretation by the victims, their parents, concerned teachers, housemasters and headmasters, the bullies and their parents. Whilst it goes without saying that the onus of judgement and response rests ultimately on the headmaster, few will probably ever appreciate what anathema bullying in any form was to Alan Megahey - or how close to despair he came in trying to eradicate it. Outraged parents and staff understandably expected instant exposure and fierce retribution; boys, vehement in their defence of 'the natural order of things' closed ranks, more resentful of this bid for change than any other. It is doubtful that any of the changes in attitude which Alan Megahey sought to instil caused him more anguish and frustration than this - and it was a frustration fuelled by the often grotesque distortions of fact which did the rounds of fashionable cocktail circuits. Both he and the housemasters were often seen as ineffectual, by the aggrieved, in dealing with the scourge of bullying - and as draconian by the perpetrators and most of their parents. Whilst there is always the temptation to report that " boys will be boys" all at 'bullying' these days is a mere shadow of the torture which prevailed in the sixties, the fact remains that for any boy's life to be made miserable by others for their own mindless gratification must be regarded as totally unacceptable. No one was more conscious of this than Alan Megahey, yet this issue became one of the heaviest crosses he had to bear.

Peterhouse Appeal
With the rapid liberalised of the Zimbabwean economy it probably won't be long before we forget how difficult was during this period to keep our schools fully equipped and operational with up-to-date laboratory equipment, computers and printers for teaching and administration, textbooks and library books, television, video and reprographic machinery, sports equipment vehicles and spares, tools and machinery for technical workshops, orchestral instruments, theatrical lighting and sound systems - all this against a background of prohibitive import costs and local inflation. Very little of the acquisition, development and expansion we have enjoyed in the past decade would have been possible had it not been for the Peterhouse Appeal launched by Alan Megahey in the early years of his incumbency. The benefits of his whirlwind tour of Britain and the Eastern United States as a launch to the appeal - under the patronage of the then Archbishop of Canterbury - are to be seen around the school today. In terms of overall facilities, educational and administrative infrastructure Peterhouse knows no peer amongst the secondary schools of Zimbabwe thanks largely to external funds made available by this appeal. As an example, to have been able to exchange and complete the Chapel pipe-organ, one of the finest in the country is an indication of how far-reaching the benefits of the Peterhouse Appeal have been. Alan Megahey established, as far as external income is concerned an 'infectious momentum' - the fruits of which we will enjoy for years to come.

Web of awareness
All this may sound introspective-greedy, perhaps. But Alan always had an eye to less fortunate schools in our vicinity:. In addition to regular Charity Fund collections, with donations from pupils and staff, the Books for the Bush campaign which he incorporated in the UK made many thousands of books available to local high-density and rural schools. For several years, too, outstanding O level candidates from a local secondary school enjoyed free A level education at Peterhouse. Some of these went on to be highly successful university graduates. At the same time and partly through the Appeal, Alan Megahey did much to reveal Peterhouse to the eyes of the world beyond our gates and borders. Never timid about 'going to the top,' he reversed the political detraction suffered by this school by inviting the then Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe to "see for himself " in 1987. Both the Prime Minister and the national press immediately hailed the school as 'a flagship of education' in Zimbabwe. Similarly, his 'web of awareness' netted significant political, religious, economic and media figures outside the country, amongst them Lord Carrington, Lord Wilson, Sir Mark Weinberg and the then Archbishop of Canterbury, who opened the Design Centre.

As one who remembers the austere glass-and-stone Peterhouse of the late fifties as 'The Jam Factory' I was often mildly surprised by Alan's references - in prayers, addresses or conversation - to "the beauty of the place in which we live": yet, although he was no gardener, it would be unfair to overlook the encouragement he gave to grounds-staff, our gardeners and visiting landscape-artists to enhance the spacious environs of the school. Rarely, too, can as much have been achieved in one year in improving the appearance and ambience of Peterhouse as occurred during Heritage Year, despite the cynical suggestion by some members of staff that Alan only inaugurated Heritage Year because he had run out of ideas for new buildings!

JWG's Hundreth Term at Peterhouse
Alan's eye for colour was as conspicuous in use environmental aestheticism as in his sense of occasion and love of ceremony. (If there was ever the faintest justification for a trumpet fanfare we would always have one!) His passion for surprises and excitement - characterised by is most conspicuous quirk, that of rising on his toes with his pipe clenched ' in overdrive', and caricatured by Peterhouse boys (as well as others in High Places) at every available opportunity - reached its zenith in the months of furtive preparation for John Greenacres Hundredth Term at Peterhouse. No one was more taken aback than JWG finding himself exposed to a full-school This is Your Life programme complete with trumpet fanfare and imported relatives from overseas! Peterhouse had never seen anything like it.

Peterhouse Festival
Another innovation was the biennial Peterhouse Festival, the first of which was held in 1985. These Festivals throw open to whoever cares to come and look at as much as the school can offer - science and technical displays, musical and dramatic performances, Chapel worship, cultural artefacts, sporting prowess - over a period of two or three days. Although some staff expressed their discomfort at the time, cost and effort involved in setting up each Festival, most pupils regard them as rather fun (an important component in the Megahey scheme of these things) and visitors generally find them informative and entertaining. Certainly they do much to rekindle a common sense of purpose, a new focus on what the Peterhouse community can achieve and to sustain a high profile for the school.

AJM as a speaker and CHISZ
His outstanding ability as a speaker (as opposed to be a raconteur, which he isn't) frequently saw Alan Megahey in demand at conferences, speech days and other formal occasions in Zimbabwe and South Africa. His pithy seven-minute sermonettes in Chapel often sought to trigger changes in moral or social outlook and behaviour, founded on Christian precepts. The fact that he was able to make some impact on a school of materially well heeled boys says much for his powers of address. His reputation as both 'inspirer' and 'dynamo' saw him serving a double term as Chairman of the independent schools' Headmasters' Conference (CHISZ) where he was able to focus in particular on two issues close to his heart: bursaries for those unable to afford the fees ( originally the vision of Fred Snell the founding Rector of Peterhouse) and university scholarships awarded to trainee teaches for the independent schools.

Ten years is in the life of a school isn't long, but this has been a decade which won't be forgotten however we were stirred, individually or collectively, by the whirlwind that was Alan Megahey. We would do well to reflect upon Edmund Burke's observation that 'A state without the means of some change is without the means of conservation.' There is much of the body, mind and soul of this school that has been changed for the better in the course of the last decade. No one would deny the need for further change and improvement in the years to come. Yet the faith and vision, endurance and love shown by Alan and Elizabeth at Peterhouse will always stand as a memorial to their own bonds of service to this school.

Guy Cary

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