IT was a memorable 88th birthday for former SMK St Thomas principal M.N. D’Cruz when some 50 old boys threw a party for him at a hotel in Kuantan recently.
The birthday boy came in a ‘Save St Thomas’ T-shirt with his family and was momentarily silent after seeing his picture and a message in the backdrop of the hall.
It stated: ‘For the Man who shaped our destinies, inspired us to rise above ourselves and be the best in the true spirit of our beloved alma mater, St Thomas. Thank you, Sir.”
Present were his wife Sarojam Velayutham, 78, a retired teacher, daughters Rebecca Jothi 54, and Caroleena Sudha, aged 51. The couple’s two sons Joseph Jayan, 48, and Antony Balan, 44, are in the United States.
D’Cruz, the longest serving school head from 1973 to 1984, is widely regarded as among those who turned the school into one of the most respected schools in Pahang and in the country.
His emphasis on discipline as well as academic and sporting excellence made the school into a much sought one by parents and members of the Pahang royal family.
The old boys’ spokesman Abdul Rahman Abdul Razak paid tribute to D’Cruz.
“You were our larger than life figure when we were students. You are still our large than life figure and a fatherly figure now.
“They say a ship is only as good as the captain. Well, join me in saying, a school is only as good as the principal. How true it is for St Thomas!” he said.
In his speech, D’Cruz said St Thomas was in his blood.
“It is a marvellous and yet humbling experience to know that my ex-students for the past few decades coming forward to celebrate the birthday of this old man with sincere handshakes and warm hugs.
“I shall always remember it with gratitude,” he added.
D’Cruz taught in the school in the 1950s before furthering his studies.
Several old boys including organising committee chairman M. Baskaran took to the rostrum to pay tribute to D’Cruz.
Dr Choo Tai Chin, 72, who studied in St Thomas from 1955 (then known as standard one) till 1963 (Form Three), recounted that he met D’Cruz in three phases of his life - as a student, as a colleague, as a subordinate and the fourth as a fellow retiree.
“Mr D’Cruz taught me history from 1960 till 1962. Even if you didn’t like history, you would love it if he is your teacher. He would make the subject interesting,” he said in his speech.
He and D’Cruz were colleagues in SM Teknik in Kuantan and when D’Cruz left the school in 1973, he immediately took over his “nice” table by the door.
“He brought me in as his senior assistant at St Thomas from 1980 till 1982 and he was my boss. I was St Thomas principal from 1992 to 1996.
“Now, both of us are retired. It is sheer coincidence that we have met in four different stages of our life. “Maybe there is a past connection,” he said.
The old boys also held an early Teachers Day celebration for former teachers. Among those present included Tan Kat Seng, Augustine Ng, S. Arunandy, Kok See Noi and Cynthia Choong. A cake cutting ceremony was held.
Abdul Rahman said the ‘Save St Thomas’ committee, which he is the chairman, was seeking an audience with the Tengku Mahkota of Pahang Tengku Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah to seek his help to retain the school’s name.
St Thomas primary and secondary schools would cease to exist in a few years once a new school complex for the schools is built in Kamunting, about 10km away from the old premises. But a new name would be given to the school.
Since January 2014, SMK St Thomas has been sharing facililities at SMK Sultan Abu Bakar while SK St.Thomas is sharing facilities at SK Teruntum.
The old boys have launched a Save St Thomas campaign to urge the Government to maintain the school name.