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News > Archives & History > A brief history of the ODU - looking back on 125 years

A brief history of the ODU - looking back on 125 years

School Archivist, Dr Paul Murray gives us a deep insight over the last 125 years.

The OD colours are registered with the Bureau of Heraldry
The OD colours are registered with the Bureau of Heraldry

The OD Union was constituted on Tuesday 14 April 1896.  The immediate objectives were a bursary/building fund, a register of ODs and a common annual day.  Today the objectives are described as: ‘to bring together past students of the Diocesan College and the Diocesan Preparatory and Pre-Preparatory Schools (hereinafter referred to jointly as ‘Bishops’), to keep them in touch with Bishops and the present students, to promote the interests and welfare of Bishops and to administer a fund to provide financial assistance for descendants of present and past members of the Union to be educated at Bishops.’ 

Founders Day is historically the day that ODs commemorate the Union with an annual dinner held the evening before Founders Day, which is normally the Friday closest to 15 March, the day on which the school was established in 1849.  The OD colours are registered with the Bureau of Heraldry under the following description: ‘A mitre Azure, orphreyed, ensigned with two crosses paty and labelled Argent, jewelled Gules.’   

By 1907 the ODU had 140 members and by March 1922, there were 22 Life Members.  The membership is currently approximately 6000. The ODU’s rules were redrafted in 1908.  It was then that life membership was proposed which was meant to endow the Union and to save administrative work, which it still does today.  The Union’s first Life Member was J. A. Reid.  Frank Reid, recently back from his studies at Oxford, and the world’s first elected Rhodes scholar with Farquhar Yeoman, was appointed the first honorary secretary, a post he held until 1955.  Donald McIntyre the author of ‘A Century of ‘Bishops’, referring to Reid, said the following: ‘It ranks with the appointments of Ogilvie and Birt in the impact it had on the fortunes of the school.’  Frank Reid developed the worldwide concept of the OD Union, increased the membership total significantly, compiled an astonishing record-system of  ODs long before the days of computers and databases, and greatly expanded the OD Notes in the College Magazine, especially during the two World Wars, when letters from the front made compelling and moving reading.  Today the school is indebted to Frank for his sterling service in constructing this immense record of a very difficult time in the school’s history.   

In the words of John Gardener et al, the ODU ‘has been one of total support and concern for the school, but with no interference in its administration.’  The ODU has supported several ventures including presenting prizes and bursaries and hosts class reunions which take the form of social events and visiting the school.  There are branches in Australia, Canada, Namibia, New Zealand, Britain, the United States of America and Zimbabwe, each run by an honorary secretary and many hosting events such as dinners.  Its structure is its Patron, President, Vice-Presidents, Chair and Members of the Committee, Honorary Secretaries and Treasurers, ODs and Staff who are members.           

The ODU connects with its members through its website. It furthermore publishes a magazine called ‘The Old Diocesan’, now into its 7th edition.  Previously news of the ODU was via the school magazines.  Altogether, these resources reflect a rich history of ODs and their achievements.  As Gardener et al have said: ‘In a history of Bishops the need to include acknowledgement of the careers and achievements of ODs is inescapable.’          

Frank Reid mostly operated from home and upon his retirement in 1955 an office for the new secretary, Owen Owen-Smith, OD, was provided in School House.  In 1964 the OD Office moved to the newly built Administration Block, and in January 2001 the Union moved to the San building, and more recently into the iconic structure The Mitre.  Staff working at the ODU have included Frank Reid (OD), Owen Owen-Smith (OD), Gilbert Hunneyball, George Hodgson (OD), Herby Selfe (OD), Brian Bamford (OD), Brian de Kock (OD), Tim Hamilton-Smith and Wynand Van Zyl (OD).  Administrative Staff have included Judy Howes, Fay Milson, Eileen Shean, Carolyn Hamilton-Smith, Delré O’Rourke, Nicole Little, Dedry Weich and Jeremy Ryall (OD).

The current ODU Chairman, Wilbur van Niekerk (OD) wrote: "I sometimes wonder how ODs will benefit from our efforts 50 or 100 years from now. While watching the recent interview with Mark Shuttleworth, I was struck by his unique way of viewing the future, where we are dwarfed by history and yet we remain significant because we played a role in its formation. Bishops will be entirely different as a school in 2071 or 2221, as we see by contrast if we cast our minds back to what the school was like in 1961, when Kidd was principal ahead of Mallett's arrival in 1964, and South Africa had become a republic in 1961 after Harold Macmillan's "Wind of change" speech. A lot has changed since.

It's quite sobering to think that far ahead, and it spurs us on to do what we do now for the benefit of future generations.”

Congratulations to the ODU on its 125-year commemoration!


Acknowledgements to John Gardener’s Bishops 150 and Donald McIntyre’s  A Century of ‘Bishops’.

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