Happy Birthday, Princess Margaret School!

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On yesterday’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE (VOP) broadcast, a caller divulged that part of the impetus for the founding of the school came from Princess Margaret herself when she visited Antigua for Coronation Day, and noted that there was no public school offering free secondary education – the result, of course, of colonialism, slavery and its aftermath. Anyway, Princess Margaret pledged to build a school to provide same. According to that caller, Princess Margaret returned to England and sent a team of builders to work on the new edifice.  Of course, it had always been the dream of visionaries like Percy Alford Wesley (P.A.W.) Gordon, Sir Vere Bird and other educators and Trade Union stalwarts for expanded secondary education here in Antigua and Barbuda – and, by sheer force of will, they collaborated to make that dream a reality.

    Ambassador Lionel “Max” Hurst chronicles the early beginnings of Princess Margaret (PM) School in his biographical tome, LUTHER GEORGE: THE BARACK OBAMA OF ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA, thusly, “A female landowner named Dyett made a gift of four acres of land in Gambles Estate in 1951 for the construction of the Princess Margaret School, at P.A.W. Gordon’s urging.  . . . Tuition-free secondary education for large numbers, born at the P.M. School, produced another generation of leaders who bore the responsibility for the building of a better Antigua and Barbuda. P.A.W. Gordon was instrumental in this undertaking which V.C. Bird championed.”

      In his other biographical piece, VERE CORNWALL BIRD: WHEN POWER FAILED TO CORRUPT, Hurst says, “The Princess Margaret School was the very first government secondary school to enlist students to take Higher School Certificate exams. This milestone was achieved by Vere Cornwall Bird following the school’s opening on April 25, 1955. When the teachers were preparing the body for primary education, Vere Bird called Christopher O’Marde, the Principal; Percy Gordon, the Inspector of Schools; and several other educators to his office. They were directed to select and prepare the PMS’ brightest boys and girls to take the Higher School Certificate exam in December 1955. Fourteen of the twenty-two selected passed brilliantly. An even better performance took place the next year.” Fantastic! Sixty-four wondrous years after that admirable start, and the PMS is still going strong!

     The school was set up to expand educational opportunities for all – the poor, as well as those from the far extremities of Antigua and Barbuda, as mentioned by former PM Dr. Baldwin Spencer on yesterday’s VOP. The school was also meant to nurture those students who were not particularly inclined to academics. This was explained by current PMS Principal Dr. Colin Greene on the same show. According to the good Dr. Greene (who is doing a terrific job in his nearly 17 years of leadership at the school) PMS was founded to provide a comprehensive secondary education for all and sundry. When asked what was his grand vision for the school, the good headmaster shared that it was, and remains, the same as the original vision of the school’s Founding Fathers, one of whom was the aforementioned Gordon.

According to Dr. Greene, “Mr. Gordon was determined that PMS was not going to be another AGS or AGHS. The focus was not only going to be on academics, but on learning [in a wider variety of subject areas] and based on aptitude . . . for life.” 

The good principal continued that, “That original vision was correct.” P.A.W., as he was affectionately called, “Encouraged tuition-free secondary education in government schools . . . Many outstanding students went, cost-free, to secondary schools on Agricultural Scholarships; yet, Gordon succeeded in creating a cadre of boys and girls from among the poorest who, for the first time in the history of Antigua, were included in the numbers acquiring secondary education.” [Luther George, P67 & 68, Hurst]

We certainly concur with Hurst’s conclusion that Antigua and Barbuda owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Percy Alford Wesley Gordon.

We also suggest that Antigua and Barbuda owes a debt of gratitude to the many outstanding principals and teachers who did yeoman’s service in molding the thousands of young minds that have passed through the hallowed halls of the PMS. So many of our finest thinkers, writers, musicians, farmers, doctors, mechanics, engineers, lawyers, teachers, preachers, architects, airline pilots, cricketers and other sportsmen are the sterling men and women that they are today because of  the exceptional PMS teachers, and we wish to salute them on a job well done.

We will now list some of the names of those greats that were mentioned on yesterday’s VOICE OF THE PEOPLE. (Our omissions are inadvertent and regretted; and, of course, time and space will not permit a more exhaustive roll call). So here goes (in no particular order): Christopher Manassah O’Marde, Basil ‘Sir Bas’ Peters, Clarence ‘Burpee’ Edwards, Vincent Benjamin, Mr. Pelle, Mr. Imhofe, Mr. Yates, Mr. “Weatherbee” Looby, Master D, Natalie Hurst, Agnes Jeffrey, Yolanda Peters,

Otway Davis, Peter Merchant, Gwendolyn King Richardson, George Piggott, Dame Eusalyn Lewis,

Yvette ‘Vettie’ Francis, Evelyn Davis Sheppard, Adlai Carrot, Lesroy Merchant, Mrs. Byam and Leonard ‘Tim’ Hector.

Seems, the Princess Margaret School, in all of its 64 years, is answering the call of its motto, “The world is in need of good men and women,” because the school has delivered to Antigua and Barbuda, indeed the world, in a most remarkable way. Princess Margaret gave us two prime ministers in the persons of Dr. Baldwin Spencer, and the current PM, Honorable Gaston Browne – whose Princess Margaret School teacher once blurted out prophetically, either in admiration or exasperation at his stubbornness and questioning, that he would one day become prime minister. Clearly, when duty called, those two men raised their hands and said “Present please!” So too have countless others, and in no particular order, we will list the names of but a few of the distinguished students that were mentioned via WhatsApp or via telephone on yesterday’s VOP broadcast. Again, omissions are regretted.

Here goes: Aldin Crump (engineer), Dr. Jillia Bird, Dr. Jackie Bird, Clement Bird (attorney),  Alister Thomas (thinker, social and political activist, historian), Dr. Delrose Christian, Attorney Leon Chaku Symister (political activist and writer),  Dr. Steve Richards, Cejhae Greene (sprinter), Jamaica Kincaid (writer, poet), Anthony Hampson (teacher, musician, founder of le Chateau Music Academy), Sir Andy Roberts (cricketer, philanthropist), Dr. Cecil Philip, Steve Simon, Ivan Rodrigues (RIP) (former manager, APUA Water Business unit), Dr. Auckland Edwards and Dr. George Mansoor, Dame Hazelyn Francis, Hilbert Mason, Yolanda Peters, Carlton Samuel, Millicent David and Ewald Samuel.

Those last six names were among the very first set of students at PM). We are enormously proud of these PM alumni.

As is Dr. Greene, who speaks of the PM-ites of the past, and their successes that inform the present. When asked, on the aforementioned VOP broadcast, about the ‘spirit of Princess Margaret School,’ the eloquent headmaster, Dr. Colin Greene, broke into a broad smile and waxed even more poetic when he said it was the ‘can-do’ spirit that takes a hold of the children and guides their thinking. PMS students are not ‘shrinking violets!’ They yield to no one! They believe in themselves (no inferiority complexes and fear) and they really do not see losing as an option. The good principal spoke of impromptu rallies in which the students respond to motivational questions as to who is the best, with much enthusiasm and bold and confident answers declaring that PMS is best!

In fact, Headmaster Greene got quite animated when he described the amount of licks that PM has been sharing in soccer and other sports. (Of course, Headmaster Sam Roberts and the Grammarians, Senator Shawn Nicholas, a Pares Secondary Old Girl and the good folks at the St. Joseph’s Academy would beg to differ, but that’s a debate for another time) (Smile!)

Suffice to say, PMS at 64 is everything the founders envisioned her to be – “Breaking social barriers and expanding opportunities for all,” as was so nicely articulated by former PM Baldwin Spencer. He admitted that he was not very good at sports but threw himself into the after-school debating society and availed himself of the “expanded opportunities” to be found there. He concluded his fond PMS recollections by saying that, with the encouragement of his headmaster ‘Sir Bas’ Peters, who allowed him to pursue a course at MONA in Jamaica, albeit with a proviso that he stay on top of his schoolwork, “The two years spent at Princess Margaret were defining years!”

     Princess Margaret School has undoubtedly changed and defined the landscape of our fair Antigua and Barbuda, and we here at NEWSCO wish to salute her on this most auspicious occasion. Happy birthday, PMS! May you continue to blossom and flourish and bear much good fruit!

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