Liesbeeck Primary School’s staff, pupils and parents bid farewell to general foreman, Ridley Williams, at his retirement ceremony.
He spoke to the Plainsman about his time working at the Portland school with the staff and community and serving them with passion and excellence for his 40-year workspan.
Mr Williams, from Westridge, told the Plainsman he was “65 years, 1 week and 3 days old” on Wednesday September 27 at his farewell ceremony.
Mr Williams’ job entailed unlocking the school gate, doing gate duty by ensuring that the pupils and staff are safely inside the school and securing the parameters at 8am. He would make sure the school is clean and gardening is done, to mention a few of his duties.
Mr Williams, who is originally from Uitenhage just outside of Gqeberha, was born clinically blind and could not see for two years in the 70s. He also attended the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South. “I was bullied for my eyesight but I quickly learnt to stand up for myself as a young boy,” he said.
Mr Williams attended Good Hope High School but stopped in Standard 9. He moved to Mitchell’s Plain on Monday April 30 in 1979. He is also a proud member of the Mitchell’s Plain Seventh-day Adventist Church, Portland, where he learnt to hone all his skills, he said.
Mr Williams worked at a building firm from March 1982 to September 1983. When he finished there he started at Merrydale Primary School in Lentegeur in January 1984 until February 1989 as a general assistant and part of the non-teaching staff.
He started at Liesbeeck Primary as a general foreman in February 1989 until his retirement last week.
He has been working for the Western Cape Education Department for 40 years, and has been the general foreman for 34 years at Liesbeeck Primary.
“My life’s philosophy is in Romans 12 verse 18: ‘…If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone’, ” he said.
“I was the youngest on staff when I started at Liesbeeck. Sometimes it took a while for the older folk to understand how to work as a team but we got there. The management and the staff are not only driven towards excellence in education, they are driven towards the development of people in this system,” he said.
He thanked Liesbeeck principal Wahied Gasant for his humanity and striving for excellence in school, accepting people for who they are. “This is a good place for human beings to work, to be treated as such, as equals as far as humanity goes where we show respect,” said Mr Williams.
He said he is really going to battle with missing the staff, “and not everyone can say that.”
“To the pupils of Liesbeeck Primary, you will experience challenges in life. You will have to climb some hills that won’t be so easy but when you stand on top of the hill you can see from the top. Adversity makes us stronger,” he said.
Mr Williams really loved the school choir and commended them on their great harmonies as he was also part of Good Hope High School’s choir.
From the Public and Allied Workers Union of South Africa, Mitchell’s Plain branch, he thanked chairman Nathan Cottile and member Clive Daniels for their support in his career, he said.
“I remember Mr Williams to be a negotiator on behalf of members, which was a strength of his. We appreciate all he has done for us,” said Mr Cottile.
Mr Gasant said he recalls a conversation Mr Williams shared with him about his late mother. “She said you are not just a foreman but here to serve the children. We definitely agree that you’ve served this community so well, she would be so proud,” he said.
Mr Williams survived three principals at Liesbeeck Primary, he said.
Mr Gasant said Mr Williams would also stay after school waiting with pupils for their lifts to arrive. “Thank you for blessing us with your prayers at lock-up time. Thank you for being the wise man to many of our colleagues. You were part of the transition from the old guard to the new. At governing body level, you were part of it and probably the longest serving member to date. Take care, enjoy and stay humble,” said Mr Gasant.
Teacher Irafaan Abrahams said Mr Williams was “the professor of caretaking”.
He met Mr Williams 31 years ago when he started his teaching career. “We’ve had a friendship since the first day I started at the school. He was known as a caretaker. He is a man of all occasions,” he said.
He was passionate about his work and never looked at himself as being just the caretaker of the school and prided himself in the responsibility bestowed upon him.
“The work that he does is so important to the school. Any activities, school meetings, there was nothing that was too much for him. He would also offer up his holy Sabbath day when the school had activities on Saturdays,” Mr Abrahams said. He made sure the school was in such a condition as if it was his own home.
“We will definitely miss him – enjoy your retirement,” Mr Abrahams said.