TO be 80 years young is sometimes far more cheerful than to be 40 years old,” said Francis Santa Maria, quoting a famous historian during his acceptance speech after being announced as the longest-serving educationist in Malaysia recently.
It was a recognition bestowed by the Malaysia Book of Records for his 61 years of service in the field.
The award was presented by Malaysia Book of Records founder Tan Sri Danny Ooi.
Santa Maria, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Jan 15, started his teaching career at La Salle Sentul in 1954. In 1985, he was transferred to La Salle Brickfields to assume the position of headmaster until he retired from Government service five years later.
He went on to work at various private schools and is currently teaching Mathematics at Stella Maris Primary School in Ampang.
“When I was first approached for the event to celebrate my birthday and 60 years of service, I was hesitant as I felt I was merely doing something I was passionate about.
“After much persuasion, I finally relented. The organisers had successfully kept the award a secret from me.
“I am proud to have been selected for the award and am elated to know that many of my students remember me,” he said at the grand birthday celebration and award ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.
Organised by La Salle Sentul Old Boys Association (OBA) and the Christian Brothers School Malaysia La Salle Provincialate, the event was attended by about 300 people including Santa Maria’s former students, colleagues, family and well-wishers.
Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Rev Julian Leow and La Salle Sentul OBA brother advisor Rev Bro Ambrose Loke were also among the guests.
Leow said Santa Maria had touched and transformed many lives.
“May he celebrate many more birthdays to share his wisdom with more students,” said Leow.
The night was filled with much laughter as many old boys reminisced about their school days when Santa Maria, who was known as a disciplinarian, was their teacher.
A former student at La Salle Sentul, Antonio Gayondato said he and his friend would “run helter skelter” if the strict teacher was spotted walking down the corridor with a cane.
“‘Santa is coming!’ someone would shout and everybody would run and hide,” he recalled.
The evening’s entertainment was provided by a band playing retro hits. One special performance was by Santa Maria’s family, who presented a musical skit on his life as a teacher.