There is something magical about St. Mary’s College Kisubi. And as we descended on SMACK for an old boys’ reunion this month, the joy of being back home was evident in profound smiles and animated conversations among peers and teachers.
Yes, it was still the same old SMACK – impeccable lawns, smart, confident, polite lads in navy blue ties, white shirts and grey trousers; the same eagle-shaped chapel with a choir that drew thunderous applause for its melodious music; the same feeling that you are in the midst of greatness.Twenty years ago when we entered upper primary, our parents had only one school they wanted us to join after primary. To them, the school was simply the best.
Two decades later, hundreds of former and current students and their families cheered as Joseph S. Kitamirike declared that he had visited two of the best schools in America and the UK and he thought St. Mary’s College Kisubi was better than them.
The National Housing and Construction Corporation boss did not detail the criteria on which SMACK was better than the best but no one seemed to disagree. Yet he tempered it with one observation about the character of most SMACK old boys
“We speak about the greatness of this college very humbly. We do not say it loud enough,” JSK said, to very loud applause.
Outside that hall, however, you wonder what it would take to ‘go and tell it on the mountains’. As lads brought up in the Catholic tradition, you heard such phrases like ‘little boys should be seen and not heard’ or ‘thou shall be known by thy works’. In other words, do your best and if you deserve to be noticed, they will notice you.
On this day, the OBs’ reunion ‘noticed’ four of its members who have scaled great heights in their professions with ‘plaques of merit’. As they relived their long journey to that podium, one line ran through their speeches: they launched their nets in very deep waters and over came turbulent waves to make it. Presenting the awards was Buganda Katikkiro J.B. Walusimbi, who was in the company of Edward Ssekandi, the Speaker of Parliament.
First was Dr. Paul George D’Arbela, a physician and advisor to Nsambya Hospital. The story goes that ex President Idi Amin once informed D’Arbela that he had been appointed presidential personal physician. As politely as he could, the good doctor told the president he was uncomfortable with his new honour as he wanted to serve Ugandans, at which Amin reportedly retorted: “Don’t you know that the best way to serve Ugandans is to be the personal physician of the president?”
When he spoke, D’Arbela urged fellow OBs not to just sing praises of the college but to contribute something to its further development. Very timely, that, given that the OBs have been trying for decades to fund a swimming pool at the college. And engineer Mathias Kizza, owner of Royal Suits in Bugolobi, led the way by donating Shs 30 million to the pool project.
Next was Francis Kitaka, the man behind Cooper Uganda Limited and Quality Chemicals Limited, and the new ARVs plant in Luzira. Kitaka was honoured for his mark on the business world, despite studying biochemistry.
Kitaka walked up to Walusimbi accompanied by 14 family members. This made an impressed Katikkiro to remark: “you can see he is doing a good job,” causing laughter. And Walusimbi soon clarified: “some of them are his grandchildren” which caused another round of laughter.
Kitaka’s three principles are to trust in God, be trustworthy, and be determined never to fail. Perhaps it was his trust in God that saved him from being executed in 1976. As he stood in a queue to be killed, the man immediately in front of him was so terrified of death that he soiled his pants. And when the executioner returned to take the next victim, he could not stand the stench. He fled. The next day, Kitaka was pardoned and returned home.
Then there was architect Henry Sentoogo, a man who loves beauty – whether you look at Workers’ House, Statistics House and State House, or whether you look at his wife Mildred.
But life wasn’t always rosy for the soft-spoken architect. He narrated how upon joining the architecture school in Nairobi, he feared he would be dismissed because he could not draw. See, fresh from a strict Catholic school that was SMACK, he was presented with three half-naked women who strutted across the room. The class was told to draw what they had seen but Sentoogo was too shocked to put pencil to paper.
But he persevered, and paid a classmate Shs 10 – a third of his stipend to teach him how to draw.
His principles? Honesty, humility and hard work with a passion.
The biggest applause though, was saved for Prof. Charles Olweny, the first Ugandan Vice Chancellor of Uganda Martyrs University, Nkozi.
Olweny, a former head of Makerere’s Medical School and of the Cancer Institute at Mulago Hospital, delivered a keynote address on quality education and professionalism.
Olweny’s animated audience reserved loudest cheers for two definitions. If you asked him what discipline is, he would say: “discipline is doing the right thing when no one is watching.”
And what is education? “It is what is left when all that you learnt in class – calculus, photosynthesis, Napoleon, etc. – is gone.”
And in his view, Olweny said, St. Mary’s gave him a good education.