WHEN I was first informed of the passing of my dear long-standing friend “KIAK”, my mind automatically switched to that famous Motto of my Alma Mater, St. Mary’s College – ‘Summum Attingitur Nitendo’ – The top is reached by striving. Kiak was the embodiment of that Motto. His father ‘Bill’ Mondesir was brought up at a time when a secondary education was available only to those of means, and so did not attend St. Mary’s College, then the only Secondary School on the island. He was, however fully aware of the value of education, and when it was discovered by Matthew George St. Clair, that “Kiak” was a bright boy, Bill strived hard to obtain the school fees to send “KIAK” to St. Mary’s. KIAK in turn strived hard at opportunities afforded at St. Mary’s and eventually rose to the top as the Headmaster of the renowned Institution. What better example of the essence of that Motto can be found!
Michael Clive Mondesir, commonly referred to as “KIAK”, which name arose from playful activities, together with Winston Taylor, on chickens in the yard at Water-Works Road, was born in Castries on November 17, 1939. He grew up as a normal typical Water-Works Road boy, participating actively in youthful activities like fishing ZORDORMAY and ZANGIE in the Castries River, but more particularly Cricket, which was played often-times at the famous Test Match Grounds, under the CAKS (Cocoa), at Clavier’s Estate.
KIAK attended the Castries Roman Catholic St. Aloysius Boys’ Primary School, under the Headmastership of that strict disciplinarian and deliverer of the strap, Matthew George St. Clair. St. Clair, better known as “ABBY” (uncle of recently deceased Gandolph St. Clair) seemed to have infused the School Motto “ Not only for School but also for Life” into KIAK’S whole being, which KIAK took literally, as it would appear that he made “School his Life”. He was to spend almost half a century, forty-seven years to be exact, 1952 to 1998, in association with St. Mary’s College, first as a student, then as a Master and finally Principal. This included a period when he actually lived at the College Hostel and served as a Hostel Master together with Leonard Alfonso (now Reverend Alfonso). Incidentally it was during this period that he made maximum use of the nearby Tennis Courts and blossomed into an accomplished Lawn Tennis Player.
In 1952 he left the St. Aloysius Roman Catholic Boys’ Primary School, crossed the LANE, and entered the portals of that renowned institution, which we considered to be like a Lodge, and which we always had our eyes on from our perches on the verandah of the R. C Boys School overlooking the College. We stayed at the original St. Mary’s College at the corner of Micoud and Broglie Streets until September 15, 1952, when the younger students were transferred to the Old Officer’s Quarters Building on the idyllic site on the Vigie peninsular. KIAK exited St. Mary’s College as a student in December 1958.
During his seven year stint as a student he received a typical English Grammar School education which included a mix bag of subjects such as English language, English Literature, Latin, French, History, Geography, Mathematics and General Science. As a Catholic Institution we also studied Religious Knowledge up to Form V and Apologetics in the Sixth Form. On completion of his Cambridge Senior School Certificate he was one of a small group of boys who continued at the Sixth Form level to pursue studies for the Cambridge Higher School Certificate examinations.
The Sixth Form at the time was divided into two divisions – Arts and Science. In 1957 for the first time the Sixth Form was dominated by the Science Stream with students like Leslie Lewis, Ronald Lewis, St. Clair Theobalds, Felix Mederick,Lionel James, Pancras Theodore, Villard Vitalis and your humble servant. KIAK opted for the Arts stream which comprised two other students, Hilary Carasco, Vaughan Lewis. KIAK studied Latin, French, Geography and World Affairs for the Higher School Certificate. Vaughan Lewis and himself were inseparable and Vaughan admired his patience, determination and gentlemanly manners.
During his school days KIAK participated fully in a whole range of Extra-Curricular Activities including Athletics, Football and Cricket. He was a superb Cricketer who made the 1st XI Cricket Team as an all- rounder. He opened the batting with me and was also a good wicket-taker as he was a spin bowler possessed with a vicious off break. He was a member of the Inter School Tournament Team that toured Dominica in 1958. He was a member of the Cadet Corps and was also one of the few boys who was an ardent member of the Legion of Mary. He was also an active and fiercely loyal member of Rodney House and contributed significantly in its battles towards the attainment of the Davidson-Houston Championship Trophy which was the highest prize for both academic and extra-curricular pursuits. During this period he also participated in community activities and was a second pan man in the HAIL 60 Steel Pan Group of Water-Works Road.
On leaving school in 1958 he could only land a job as a Time-keeper at the Public Works Department. However, the father of one of his School mates who was in the same sixth form and was recruited as an Assistant Master at S.M.C approached the Headmaster, Bro. Ignatius Flahive, and told him it was infradig to have a Higher School Certificate student of his College working as a Time –Keeper. Bro. Ignatius immediately hired KIAK as an Assistant Master and as they say the rest is history.
Michael Clive Mondesir was appointed an Assistant Master of St. Mary’s College in September 1959 and first taught Latin, French and Geography to the Junior School. Later on with the introduction of West Indian History to the school curriculum with the advent of Roy Augier’s “The Making of the West Indies.” Bro. Ignatius gave KIAK the responsibility of teaching West Indian History. KIAK accepted the challenge and taught the subject in both the junior and senior forms throughout the school. Michael Clive Mondesir then became a dedicated History Teacher par excellence throughout his long association with St. Mary’s.
KIAK was awarded a Caribbean Organisation Scholarship to the Inter-American University in Puerto Rico and graduated with a degree magna cum laude in Economics. After his sojourn in Puerto Rico he returned to his Alma Mater as a Graduate Master and taught West Indian History with a remarkable measure of success. During this period he furthered his studies and was awarded a Post-Graduate Diploma in Education from the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies.
When the Headship of St. Mary’s College became vacant, Michael Clive Mondesir was duly appointed Headmaster of St. Mary’s in November 1980. He created history, as he was the first Samarian and Saint Lucian to be so appointed. For the record it must be stated that Earnest Theobalds (Uncle of Bernard Theobalds, Tedburt Theobalds and Vaughan Lewis), Harold Haynes and Girard Glace had been at the helm at St. Mary’s but only in an acting position. To a certain degree KIAK was the ideal candidate for the position. He had been a thorough, meticulous, tireless and indefatigable Master of very long standing and thoroughly seeped with the rules and regulations and traditions of the institution. In addition he had been taught by Headmasters like Canice Collins and Ignatius Flahive and worked alongside Headmasters such as Ignatius Flahive, Marcus Donavan, Donatus Brazil, Liguori O’Mahony and Joachim Stack, and so was exposed to varied approaches to the management of the school, which must have been of inestimable value to him. He also equipped himself for the task of leadership by undertaking a course in Secondary School Management in Sydney, Australia.
As Headmaster of St. Mary’s College Mr. Mondesir made a sterling contribution to the upliftment of secondary school education in Saint Lucia. This called for strength, and fortitude, dedication, strategem, tact, commitment, mobilization and team-work on his part. In order to better appreciate the magnificent and significant contribution made by Mr. Mondesir the environmental conditions under which he had to work should be considered.
It must be remembered that Mondesir plunged into the Headship of St. Mary’s at a turbulent time in the modern history of St. Lucia, when two Samarians from different epochs, were engaged in a fierce political battle for the Prime Ministership of the Country. The Archbishop of Castries at the time His Grace Kelvin Felix was fully aware of the environmental conditions that engulfed the Principal of the College and in his message – “Looking,” Forward with Confidence, He wrote:
“ Life has its ups and downs and St. Mary’s College as a human institution is subject to its normal pattern of human experience.
If the Academic year 1981-1982 was considered to have been a year of ‘downs’ when things were bad in the areas of punctuality, lack of discipline, low productivity, bad student/staff relationship etc, one must not view these problems in isolation but within the broader context of the entire Saint Lucian Society.
Truly, our schools reflect the mood, the spirit and attitude of the society. The young are so impressionable that they react spontaneously to the pressures that are brought to bear on their homes and families. If we stop to reflect and analyse the societal situation we would quickly come to an explanation and understanding of why students behave the way they did.”
It must also be remembered that St. Mary’s College as a living institution had been beheaded or decapitated with the removal of its Lower and Upper Sixth Forms. Rowan Seon, recently retired Headmaster of St. Mary’s College put the situation of the 1980’s in perspective when he wrote:
S.M.C in Focus
“Everybody is talking about the ‘good old days’
Especially SMC Old Boys. Every SMC old Boy must have recently experienced some sort of sorrowful sentiments – genuine concern – for his dear alma mater, in the face of the spate of bad publicity to which the school has been recently subjected.
… they recall the days when the only challenge to a Samarian for the Island Scholarship came from another Samarian; when head prefects transformed the entire Assembly Hall into a Cathedral of silence by merely walking in; when the SMC Cricket and football teams held their own, and often triumphed in Senior National Competitions:…
… No School … exists in a vacuum. The environment within a school is, in many ways, a reflection, a microcosm of the society…
…Before 1974, a tremendous amount of in-school supervision and classroom surveillance had been provided by the corps of school prefects. Physically and mentally matured, these Upper Sixth Form students were very often indistinguishable from Masters, and very often wielded almost as much power. Today, the classrooms once reserved for Sixth Formers are occupied by First Formers.
…The loss of the Sixth Form has affected not only school discipline but scholastic, athletic and extra-curricular activities as well. The very spirit of SMC used to be in the custody of the school seniors. Their presence was a vital source of inspiration to aspiring youngsters…
Mr. Michael Clive Mondesir therefore struggled hard to upkeep the standards and traditions of St. Mary’s College especially in view of the criticisms of Old Boys and Certain members of the Castries Community in particular. KIAK, having received the combined classics and science orientation, active participation in extra-curricular activities as a student and with long experience of teaching at his Alma Mater was able to navigate through the raging turbulent seas of the time with a certain amount of dexterity. He was thus able to weather the new politic-socio-educational environment and provided a great measure of stability to the institution.
One of his first actions towards stabilizing the institution was to appoint Mr. Rupert Ellis as Dean of Discipline. He also established a Students Guidance Counselling Committee which was the first of its kind in the long history of the College. He also co-operated fully with the Board of Management of the College under the Chairmanship of Archbishop Kelvin Felix to produce a new Code of Conduct for the institution. Mr. Mondesir welcomed the New Code of Conduct issued by the Board of Management and in his Principal’s message in November 1983 he wrote”
“…an important step has been taken to arrest the downward trend in the standard of behaviour of our pupils. A new Code of Conduct issued by the SMC Board of Management, is to form the main plank in our platform of revival. The Code is to be viewed not merely as a threat of punishment for misdemeanours but rather as a challenge to our youngsters in these heady days of laizzez-faire attitudes. The challenge is not threatening. It is meant to temper excesses and give guidance.”
Another measure of significance was the re-introduction of a Students Council which had been disbanded by a previous Headmaster. The Council made valuable suggestions to the principal that led to the improvement of sporting activities. The democratic process encouraged by Mondesir by allowing the Students Council to be active participants in the management affairs of the college paid dividends in that an extremely good staff- student relationship throughout the institution was developed.
He also reactivated and invigorated the Parent-Teachers Association. Finally he was able to improve generally staff-student relationships by example. He was a disciplinarian of the highest order but Black Book encounters with students were always tempered with humour, perhaps learnt from his brother ‘SPECIE’ who was at one time the city’s HUMOURIST.
In keeping with the changes in the socio-economic environment, Mondesir widened the subject offerings with the introduction of new subjects such as Technical Drawing, Civics, Social Studies, Economics, Integrated Science, Information Technology, Principles of Business, Principles of Accounts, Visual Arts, Theatre Arts and Physical Education.
Outside of the St. Mary’s College environment Michael Clive Mondesir was a simple, kind, generous and humble unassuming individual, with a bank of knowledge and experiences, which he was always willing to share with ordinary folk on the street, but more particularly with the ‘weevandez’ of the Castries Market, with whom he interacted every Saturday morning when procuring local provisions for his family.
KIAK was always concerned with the welfare of the less fortunate in society. His humanism and deep social consciousness led him to be one of the co-founders of the Saint Lucia FORUM. This was a group of professionals who came together primarily to educate the general public of their social rights and responsibilities. In fact the very first meeting of the group was held at his home in Sans Soucis.
KIAK was a man of old world moral and spiritual values. From an early age he had been a practising Roman Catholic who attended most of the religious ceremonies, anniversaries and celebrations of the church. He had a deep faith in the Almighty which enabled him to face adversities like Vincent’s illness.
KIAK above all was the quintessential family man. He was an exemplary husband, father, grandfather, brother and uncle. His love for his wife IANATHE was deep, sincere and as constant as the Northern Star. His dedication, devotion and protection provided to his children was unquestionable particularly to his only son, Vincent, in whom he was well pleased. His love for Ianthe paid dividends, as with her calm, collected stoic qualities, and assisted by God given strength, she was able to take care of both KIAK and Vincent in an exceptional manner during what may be described as the families DARKEST HOUR. The trials and tribulations that the Mondesir family had to undergo were particularly difficult and Ianthe’s role in managing the situation must be given high praise. May the Lord shower her with Blessings. The special love and attention extended to his grandchildren should not be forgotten and we sincerely hope that the lessons he instilled in them will be of great value to them as they travel through the vissisitudes of life’s journey.
Michael Clive Mondesir not only taught students during his long tenure at St. Mary’s but also transmitted his knowledge and experiences to his staff as well. His influence on a younger generation of Samarian Masters has been tremendous. His legacy lives on in his disciples like Ellis, Seon and Lubon who became outstanding Secondary School Headmasters in their own right. Seon has managed St. Mary’s in the same vein as KIAK thus upholding its position as the best Boys Secondary School in Saint Lucia and perhaps in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States. Similarly the high standards achieved at the HESS Comprehensive School did not come by accident but is the direct result of KIAK’S influence on Ellis and Lubon. His influence is also being felt at the Babonneau Secondary School under Terence Fenelon.
The influences of Michael Clive Mondesir on the growth and development of Samarians under his tutelage, to use the common obituary phrase, ‘are too numerous to mention’. KIAKIAN Samarians abound in several professions – Law, Medicine, Agriculture, Engineering, Natural Science, Accounting, Education etc etc – in Saint Lucia, the Caribbean, United Kingdom, Canada, The USA and other parts of the world.
Michael Clive Mondesir was honoured by the Government of Saint Lucia with the Saint Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) and was admitted to be a Member of The British Empire (MBE) by Her Majesty The Queen Elizabeth II.
Michael Clive Mondesir, by his contribution to secondary school education, must be considered among the greats that Saint Lucia has produced.
Saint Lucia must therefore thank God for KIAK
Let us therefore ‘step together’ and lay our Samarian Comrade to rest.
Deo fidelis et patria (Faithful to God and Country)
Requiescant in pacem (Rest in Peace)