Mervyn Gray (Former Bishops Prep Headmaster)
It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Mervyn Gray (Former Bishops Prep Headmaster). A memorial service will be held on Friday 13th April at 3pm in the Brooke Chapel with tea in the Heatlie Pavilion thereafter.
Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.
Mervyn is survivied by his wife Sue, and their two children, Mark (1992G) and Donna.
(12/10/1944 – 9/4/2018)
Mervyn was born near Johannesburg where his father was the underground manager of a gold mine; he was barely three weeks old when his father was killed while rescuing miners trapped in an underground fire.
He matriculated from Michaelhouse and after a post-matric year, entered Natal University where he met Sue Byass. After graduating there, he enrolled at what was then the University of Rhodesia and gained his G.C.E. from London University. He and Sue were married on St Valentine's Day in 1970. They moved firstly to London where Mervyn taught at Colet House, the Prep School to St Paul's, and then to Bishops College School in Canada – where Mervyn inaugurated his favourite game, Rugby Union. In 1976, the Grays returned to South Africa – to Hilton College with their small son Mark, who was soon to be joined by his sister, Donna. Mervyn quickly established himself as a vital member of the English Department. And in 1978, he became Housemaster of the then roughest, toughest, most rebellious House on campus – and set about taming it!
In a farewell letter to Mervyn a month or so ago, an ex-Hilton staff colleague wrote: "I have always admired your moral strength and the way you went about cleaning out the Augean Stables of that particular House." And Mervyn's House Tutor, Ian McLachlan, who later became Headmaster of St Stithian's College, is convinced that his own successes in the teaching world are as a direct result of Mervyn's guidance and example.
Mervyn was a brilliant rugby coach and his Under 15 A was rarely beaten. A wonderful director of plays as diverse as You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown and A Man for All Seasons and Twelve Angry Men, he also acted in Oliver and Kes. He loved all genres of music, played the guitar and sang in the choir.
In July 1985, Mervyn was appointed Senior Master – later Headmaster – of Bishops Prep in Cape Town, and unknowingly initiated the surname colour-coincidence in that at the end of 1996, he was succeeded by Midge Hilton-Green, who years later was followed by Greg Brown! Mervyn's time at the Prep saw many innovations: a new Computer Centre was opened in 1991; Design Technology was introduced as a subject; the increasing involvement of parents was reflected in the regular braais, open-days, fêtes and charity days; the teaching of Xhosa was greatly extended; and the device of including members of staff in Prep plays and musicals was revived, with Mervyn himself producing and acting in the musical Tom Sawyer and directing productions such as Charlie Brown – while numerous other plays were staged by various teachers.
Boxing came to an end in 1988, but in every other sport, Prep teams excelled – particularly in cricket and rugby, with tours of the former sport to the Transvaal, Port Elizabeth and KwaZulu-Natal, and of the latter to the Eastern Cape four times, to the South Eastern Cape three, and twice to the Karoo.
Above all, Mervyn made no secret of his enthusiasm and ambitions for Prep music. During his term of office, over half the boys studied an instrument, a wonderful Prep choir and orchestra were developed, quarterly concerts took place, a brass band was formed and various instrumental ensembles performed regularly. There was also participation in the Cape Town Eisteddfod, the Schools Music Week and the annual Prep Carol Concert. Possibly the crowning moment of all musical advances, however, was the opening of the new Music School building in 1994 – a lasting legacy of Mervyn's drive and his love of music. As a fellow teacher at the Prep, Will Carey, said in a letter of condolence to Sue: "A Prep boy could be as proud to paint or act or play the oboe as to be a Maths scholar or to play rugby well."
After a brief sojourn in Grahamstown, in August 1997 the Grays moved to Bahrain in the Middle East where Mervyn was Headmaster of a school of 1000 pupils and Sue was librarian at a different school. When at Bishops Prep, they'd bought a lovely holiday home at Pringle Bay, and until their final return from Bahrain in August 2009, countless friends and acquaintances revelled in their hospitality at Pringle when the Grays visited on their annual long vacation. And after their permanent move back to South Africa, the generosity of the Grays continued – as well as both of them busying themselves in charitable and local council work in the Overberg, and Mervyn further developing his knowledge and love of ornithology.
Mervyn had the most infectious sense of humour: if one began laughing at his stories, he would embellish his subsequent comments until everyone was in fits of laughter! From Bahrain to their multitude of friends, he regularly sent accounts of their experiences there. These he named 'The Burning Bahrain Epistles' and their contents still result in total hilarity amongst the Grays' friends.
In the past nine years, the Grays have travelled widely: to KwaZulu-Natal, to St Helena, to Canada, to Europe, to Ireland and to England. In January 2018, having sold their Pringle Bay house, they moved into their lovely new home in Helderberg Village, Somerset West.
Eight weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Mervyn died peacefully, his son and daughter having travelled from Canada to be with him before the end. His memorial service took place on 13 April in the Memorial Chapel at Bishops.
Paul Cannon (1953S)