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Deane Yates, the man

| September 11, 2012 | 0 Comments

By David Matthews

My task today is to talk to you about Deane, the man. He was a man of great passion supported and strengthened by a faith that was all-embracing.

I recall in my first years back at St John’s being in thecompany of some of the older and senior members of staffwho spoke of Deane in ways that suggested that he was a lightweight. It was extraordinary to see this attitude change as Deane did the impossible and took St John’s College to new heights.

His leadership had its foundation in his faith and in his passion to make the difference that he saw was his to make. His determination made the centre of his focus intense. I think that this allowed him to be at ease with those whom he saw to be fellow travellers. He took delight in his colleagues’ talents and contributions. During the years I worked closely with Deane, I formed a great respect for him and for what he stood for.

We discussed things in detail but then he headed the endeavour. He was clear in what he wanted to see happen and, if tested, he would be prepared to show the steel which underpinned his resolve. The single-mindedness that was the hallmark of his leadership at St John’s came into play again in his creation of Maru a Pula School in Botswana.

The initial years of Maru a Pula were far from straightforward. Challenges came from critics who saw the school as elitist; from the bureaucrats within the ministry of education; from within the Botswana Christian Council; and, of course, challenges came in the shape of the search for the funds required to open and develop an independent school in a relatively unknown part of Africa. These would not have been overcome had it not been for Deane’s belief in the need to create a new inclusive school for children.

His return to South Africa led to the creation of the NEST schools – a multiracial creation rather than a non-racial one – and an important stepping stone in the history and development of education in this country. He also ensured that some 170 students from Alexandra township in Johannesburg have received bursaries to good state or independent schools. This contribution to education was officially recognised when he was given his honorary doctorate. A part of Deane that I have made no mention of was his ability as a public speaker.

He could speak without hesitation and without a note for a powerful length of time. However you look at this, this must have taken great preparation, even for an Oxford man!He enjoyed the glamour of the special occasion. I believe that passion is fed by faith and certainly this was true throughout Deane’s life. I have used the word passion to describe what could well have been better called an inspiration, a calling from God. Deane was a remarkable man, a gentle man, a man who leaves much behind, a man who never permitted a moment of complacency within himself. His influence will remain with those who knew him and many more lives than we can imagine will be enriched as a result.

I cannot end this tribute without making more mention of the role Dot, his wife, played in Deane’s life. She was throughout their life together in at least two places: beside him and behind him!I am sure that when he faltered she was also there to carry him through the crisis. Together, which is what we are really talking about, they made a great team.

I was indeed privileged to have worked with him and eventually to have known him as a true and trusted friend. I fear that I have not done him justice here. I can only hope that I have touched in many of you a memory of Deane so that our combined thoughts may adequately reflect the life of a remarkable man. May his soul, together with Dot’s, rest in peace.

Category: Spring 2012

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