Alex of Yore: Paul Ellis with Poetry in his Veins

The one thing that I recall about Paul is his endeavour to make us understand poetry by writing some ourselves. In attempting to do so, I soon realised writing poetry was more difficult than one anticipated.

Every biography is different. For me the most satisfying have been the one-on-one interviews such as with Flippie as they provide an insight into the real person. In most cases, the best that was possible was an interview with a surviving spouse such as Fay Welsh or the children of Cordingley. Paul’s was completely different in that I was given a typed biography. Even without a verbal interview, one aspect of the man shines through and that is his humanity and a gentle spirit.

This is the autobiography of Paul Ellis.

Main picture: Farewell from Muir  in December 1992

I have retained the split that Paul gave me for his autobiography. Part 1 was written for the class of ’59 at Grey while part 2 brings his biography up to date.

Part 1: Grey class of 1959 50-year reunion

After leaving Grey with every intention of entering the Anglican ministry, I proceeded to Rhodes University where I enrolled for a BA degree.  The rather sheltered life I had led did not adequately prepare me for the temptations and freedom of student life. 

Newly appointed Headmaster of Muir in 1976

I soon surrendered my ministerial ambitions and opted for a career in education instead.  Four years at Rhodes yielded a BA degree with English and History as majors, a University Education Diploma, four games for the EP under 19 rugby team (including the first game to be played on the Boet Erasmus rugby stadium alongside later Springbok legend, Gawie Carelse) and a wealth of new experiences and friendships.  While still a student I completed my military training at Oudtshoorn and Queenstown, and received an honourable discharge as rifleman with the First City Regiment.  I left my last camp a week early to take up a teaching post at Otto du Plessis in January 1964.

With Nick Kruger at an Old Grey cocktail party on Grey rugby tour to Rhodesia in 1974

After leaving Rhodes I worked, played cricket in various leagues for Old Grey (including a successful season as captain of the 1st XI 1967/68) and in 1965 married Marian Martin, whom I had dated intermittently since 1957 and steadily since 1961.  Our first child, Haydn (an architect in Cape Town), arrived in 1966 and Dee (a teacher in Queenstown) followed in 1968.  That was the year I moved to Alexander Road High School as Special Grade Assistant.

Staff party at Alex in 1969

In 1971 I was appointed Vice Principal at Plumstead High School in Cape Town, where I had the pleasure of working with Dieter Pakendorf, subsequently to become Rector of Grey.  During this time I took a term’s furlough to teach at Magdalen College School in Oxford, courtesy of a British Council traveling fellowship.

Shortly after my return from England I was offered the post of Deputy Principal at Grey and spent three very fruitful years working with Stan Edkins and an outstanding staff.  In 1974 our third child, Kirsten (a psychiatrist in London), was born.

In 1976 I was appointed Headmaster of Muir College Boys’ High School in Uitenhage.  I held this position for 17 years.  Initially the job came with the added responsibility of being hostel superintendent, but I was happy to hand over that burden to current Muir Headmaster, Bun Hopley in 1982.  As Headmaster I was ex officio a member of the Uitenhage Rotary Club.  I served the club in various capacities, including two terms as President.  Towards the end of my time in Uitenhage I started road running as a means of keeping fit and controlling stress.  By the time wonky knees forced me to give up this pastime in 2002, I had completed 10 Two Oceans and 5 Comrades ultra marathons.

Wedding & beach time

In 1992 I was appointed to the inspectorate and in 1993 moved to East London to take up duties as Superintendent of Education in the Border area.  For two productive years I reported to the Cape Education Department.  Then came the realignment of provinces and I found myself reporting to Bisho.  In 1996 the ANarChy government decided to purge education of expertise and experience by offering voluntary severance packages.  I took the opportunity to escape from the chaos, and moved back into my ancestral home in Newton Park, where you will find me to this day.

In London, on SACEE traveling fellowship 1972

I have done the odd stint of relief teaching since retiring at the end of 1996, including six months at Grey, but I must confess that these days I find little enjoyment in butting heads with young people whose lifestyles and values bear so little resemblance to mine.  So now I am content to keep myself fit playing bowls, walking and gardening.  Reading, television, traveling, the odd game of bridge (learnt at Rhodes), crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, the computer and occasional forays into the realms of children’s verse (for my four grandchildren) keep the grey cells working (hopefully!)

Marian and I at Muir Matric farewell 1984

Part 2: A Gentleman of Leisure

After 13 very comfortable and happy years in our Newton Park home, we decided that the time was right to scale down. We were lucky to be offered a very suitable 2-bedroomed cottage at Echo Foundation’s Walton Park in Summerstrand and relocated there in 2010.

Apart from some health issues in 2013, we have enjoyed a very relaxed life here, punctuated with a (final?) visit to Kirsten in London in 2016, and annual holidays at Seavale (near East London), where Dee and her family own a beach house, and Haydn’s hideaway home in Kleinmond (Western Cape).

First grandson Simon in 1993

In 2015 Marian and I celebrated our golden wedding anniversary. I could not afford (nor did she want!) any more gold, so to celebrate the occasion I composed a Shakespearean sonnet for her. (Those of you who were paying attention will remember the format: three quatrains and a concluding couplet, in iambic pentameter, with abba, cddc, effe, gg rhyme scheme. But enough of that!) I presented it to her in a gold frame, surrounded by pictures of our 50 plus years together. I like to believe she treasures it more than any trinket money could have bought.

The family at Kleinmond 2009

Just before the Covid pandemic sent us all into lockdown in 2020, Dee and her family relocated from Queenstown to Seavale. They had added a 3-bedroomed cottage at Seavale to their property portfolio and invited us to use it over Christmas/ New Year 2020/21. Five months into lockdown we had acquired a Yorkshire Terrier puppy, who absolutely loved the freedom and space of Copper Cottage after the confinement of retirement village existence. We did not need much convincing to accept their offer to relocate ourselves; and that is where you will find us after 24 June.

Newly appointed Headmaster of Muir College 1976

Dee’s children Simon (BA HED), Justin (BComm Law) and Paula all followed their Gramps and Mother’s tertiary education path at Rhodes University. The boys are teaching English in Vietnam, while Paula is in her final year of a junior phase teaching degree. Kirsten also felt the need to get away from the stresses of city life in London and relocated to Ramsgate on the Kent coast late last year. Her son, Gabriel, has been pursuing his education online for a year, but is now enrolled at a private school in Ramsgate.

Start of Muir College peace run 1992 (Johannesburg to Uitenhage)
TV interview outside Uitenhage Town Hall at conclusion of Muir College

Dean asked me to include some then and now photographs, from which I suppose he will make a selection for his blog. I trust they will adequately reflect how blessed we have been.

With all the grandchildren, 2012 – Seavale Christmas

I cannot end this update without thanking Dean for forcing me to reflect on a particularly happy chapter in my life – my three and a half years at Alex. I still have good memories of WAC’s assemblies, naughty end-of-term staff parties, rugby and cricket teams I coached, debating society evenings and, of course, hundreds of wonderful boys and girls that I had the privilege of teaching.

With Garth Wright ( late 1980’s)

I am sorry that Covid restrictions and protocols will not allow you to celebrate your 50-year reunion in the manner you would have chosen; but I feel sure your memories of that wonderful time of your lives will inspire you to “make it happen” somewhere down the line.

Sonnet for Marian

(on the occasion of our 50th wedding anniversary)

When I first met you, we were very young –                                                                                                                       Fumbling teenagers, blowing hot and cold -                                                                                                                                         Not yet essential as is air to lung,                                                                                                                                                            Not yet dependent, as we are now, old.
Through intervening years of joys and cares,                                                                                                                                A tortuous path our married journey ran;                                                                                                                      Enriched by children, both our own and theirs -                                                                                                               The only constant us, as we began.
The future’s a blank page we’ve yet to write,                                                                                                                       A leap into the unknown we must take;                                                                                                                            And as we run our race, the end in sight,                                                                                                                          We stand together for each other’s sake.
If I could have my life to live again,                                                                                                                                       I would not change the choice that I made then.
Paul                                                                                                                                                                                      December 2015

Blogs on Alex

Leave a Comment.