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News > Passing of friends > Tribute from the Prep Headmaster

Tribute from the Prep Headmaster

Many will remember Rob Riches.

With thanks to Greg Brown, Prep Headmaster for sharing this with us:


I have been asked to say a few words by Jenny and the family. Having known Rob since I arrived at Bishops Prep in 2008 most of my tribute is from the perspective of life at the Prep.

Incidentally I found the Prep to be a bit of a family business too. Jenny teaches extra lessons there and has done so for many years, Matt coached as a student and still referees on Saturdays and Steven is our resident sports photographer.

Rob spent 35 years at Bishops – that’s a lifetime of work – and he loved it, the career, the people , the school. A regular statement from him was, “I’m passionate about Bishops.”

There was virtually nothing he had not done at the school – except teach Afrikaans , being Zimbabwean, of course:  Housemaster, running the boarding house for 12 years in the days when Housemasters were on duty every day, spending every mealtime in the dining room, as well as taking activities over the weekend. He was a consummate schoolmaster through and through. Nothing was too much. He had been deputy since 2003 and carried on being a Form teacher – a register class teacher – this meant that at the end of the year he had to take the Grade 6s on camp and return to run Prizegiving the next morning having done all the admin and planning before leaving. I said, “Rob how can you manage this? … he would just say, “Greg, it’s not a problem.”. Eventually I managed to persuade him to give up that role – not easy because he loved it and believed that that was what a teacher did.

He was a great sports coach, cricket and rugby, coaching the First XI for 17 years and staff have many wonderful and humorous stories of tours with him around the country. Rob had such a way of working with boys, always kind and positive, but also getting the message across- if someone was a bit slack or gave up : “Come on, chap, you know you can do better than that or keep it simple, chum, just remember what we did at practice.”

He was still coaching at Bishops in his retirement – and on the first 2 nights in hospital, messaging Chris Groom, Head of Sport, with arrangements. Matthew took his last 4 matches and they won them all. Matt – you were able to tell your dad that in those 5 days he was awake. He would have been thrilled.

In 2010 as you know South Africa hosted the Soccer World Cup – we had a gentle soccer programme but Rob was not overly fond of that round ball – however our boys were over the moon about this event.  We had to do something special.

Rob’s response was, “Let’s not overdo it.” But we persisted – he went quiet – and by Monday he had a plan: A launch assembly, soccer Fridays where you could wear soccer gear and, most importantly, a lunch time class soccer league. And it was great. We have carried on with  class soccer  for 12 years since then.

That was Rob, he didn’t always agree but he would make a plan. He wasn’t a strategist or a dream chaser, but a superb implementer, consolidator and gentle but steady hand on the rudder type of guy.

He was so reliable and diligent: if the Business Manager asked me about budgets – sports budgets -  he would say that if Rob had gone through them he had nothing to worry about.

Many a Sports Head despaired – if he went in with a budget for 50 practices Rob would say are you sure, what about the 2 public holidays and the Grade 7s will be on tour that week, etc and so expenses were paired down.

He sent out the weekly update on a Sunday night  from his study at school. You might ask, why not from home – because Jenny was attending Evening Mass down here as Kim and Mike were in the Impact Choir – and he didn’t like Jenny driving at night. So every Sunday night at 6.30 your phone would ping. And staff would say : ” There’s Rob – better check our week.”

As my Deputy he was utterly supportive: he always said something to me about my assemblies, whatever I did, considered or ill-considered, he would support me in public. A little later he might pop into my study – he never called it an office- and say quietly: “Greg, don’t you think”…. And I would know a very quiet bit of advice was to be offered.

As I said Rob was so supportive. I remember an early morning meeting for which I had overslept and so phoned him to say I would be late. He said no problem and took over. Later I asked him if he had told them that I had  overslept. ” Definitely not, I told them you were delayed”, was his response. Overslept would have been far too personal!

As I mentioned earlier, Rob was amenable to almost everything we decided  – but when he was adamant about something we listened. There was very seldom a firm no from him in Exec meetings. But when there was it was always presented in the most respectful way, “Greg, or guys, I really don’t think this is the right way to go.”

Rob had 3 priorities in life: his family, his faith (spending many years in this church) and the school. In this he was content – in our consumerist society, with the emphasis on materialism and self – his was an example of living a straightforward and good life. I never heard him express an envious thought, unless of course another school was beating  us with some highly talented players.

Rob was a schoolmaster to his fingertips. A real Bishops legend.

Your match ended too early, Rob, but you played it so well, you scored many a century, took the toughest catches, remained loyal to your team, and always, always gave your best.

Go well, my friend. Thank you for everything.

Pro Fide et Patria

Deliverd by Greg Brown, Bishops Prep Headmaster, at the Requiem Mass 22 Dec 2022 at St Michael’s Catholic Church, Rondebosch


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