By Lorraine Mullins
St Andrew’s Prep Grahamstown regrets to report the death of Anthony Hugh Parnell, Headmaster from January 1971 to December 1980, at his home in Kenton-on-Sea on Thursday 3 May.
Old Johannian Anthony entered Prep from St Andrew’s School, Bloemfontein armed with a BA (Wits), BA Hons. Cum Laude (UOFS), a Grade 1 rugby referee’s certificate and fresh and critical eyes. With support of the Board of Governors, he made changes to a school steeped in the traditions of 86 years, while suffering under the financial restrictions of declining numbers.
Under his leadership the School was extended with the addition of the ‘Junior Prep’ for pre-primary children, which included opening its doors to girls. Before he left he was in the midst of making plans for a pre-primary class. Conscious that previous headmasters had tended to keep parents at arm’s length, Anthony initiated the ‘Parents’ Association’, which provided the opportunity to become more involved in their children’s education and in improving facilities. One of the immediate results was the radical change to what became known as the “Storm Dower Library” in memory of a delightful senior boy who had died of leukaemia. Various fund-raising activities provided Prep with its first school transport that enabled a variety of educational outings and sporting events. Anthony fought manfully to get his hands on finance from the United Schools Trust, which was most reluctant to release funds for the immediate needs of DSG, Prep and College.
Following the dreadful Sharpville Massacre and mass educational disturbance throughout South Africa , the hard Government policy of racial segregation began to show strains. The Anglican Church, following the example of the Catholics, put serious pressure on the schools to open their doors to non-white children. Anthony and the Board were having to tread lightly, for Prep was coincidentally negotiating with the Cape Provincial administration for a subsidy. Nevertheless, it was agreed that desegregation would take precedence, and Anthony became heavily involved in the negotiations that followed. The Board decided upon a conservative route, and on the basis of ‘educational qualification’ a Chinese boy, then a few local Indian boys were allowed through. By 1979 though, Anthony was being faced by a lengthening list of African applications. Despite his serious efforts to receive the first black boys into Prep, it would be his successor who had that privilege.
Headmastering a private school is not a job for the faint-hearted. Yet Anthony was to go on to head St Peter’s Rivonia and the Drakensberg Choir School. But despite that he was pre-eminently a fine schoolmaster. He never withdrew from teaching the Top Class; he, under pressure, devoted hours of his time coaching the U13A cricket and the budding Springboks of the new Junior Prep ; he conducted the Sunday services in Memory Hall with sincerity. But what his Old Boys will remember most, I think, was his fine singing voice and gifted acting on stage. Not many will forget his performance as Fagin in ‘Oliver’ or Captain von Trapp in ‘The Sound of Music’. He was even able to coax his staff on to the stage, with the connivance our actor-director, Peter Weldrick.
To work with Anthony Parnell was to be caught by frequent surprizes, and often much laughter. He was a friend to his school and a personal friend whom I have long valued. Rightly Prep’s Centenary music block was dedicated to him as The Anthony Parnell Music Centre. He will not be forgotten. Andrew Hugh Parnell is survived leaves his wife Fiona and their children Nicola, Julia and Giles.
Our deep sympathy goes out to his family.