Troika of Exceptional Educators and Leaders

La Salle School Brickfields was blessed to have such personalities at the helm

Recently, there was a guest blog post by Denis Armstrong on my blog site that had a relatively simple heading: La Salle School, Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. It was an incredibly nostalgic, interesting and factual sharing of the early days of this school and of that particular era in the days when the country was known as Malaya.

Denis Armstrong also shared some wonderful photographs from that era. These included photos of some of the pioneer teachers at the school as well as some photos of the school when it was first built in the fifties. That this then nondescript, small school could rise above its grim situation and become a school to reckon with is now the stuff of legends.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders.

Overwhelming Response to the Blog Post

This blog post had an overwhelming, positive response. To date over 2,711 individuals have read that particular blog post. It is a clear indication of the great interest that many old boys and even residents of Brickfields have on the subject matter.

However, no history of La Salle Brickfields can be complete without some mention being made of the incredible troika of educators and outstanding leaders. These individuals gave so much of themselves in leading La Salle School Brickfields to much success not just in academic matters but also in sports, games, athletics and extra-mural activities.

The Troika

The troika consisted of Rev. Bro. Gaston, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 1, S. Ratnasingam, headmaster of La Salle Primary School 2 and Albert Rozario who succeeded Rev Bro Gaston as headmaster of the school. All three leaders have since passed on but they have collectively left behind, to their credit, a great legacy.

Group photo of teachers from the three schools

Group photo of teachers from the three schools: La Salle Brickfields Primary School 1, La Salle Brickfields Primary School 2 and La Salle  Brickfields Secondary School ( 1976 )

There are two more individuals who also contributed significantly to La Salle School being a success story. They are Denis Armstrong, the extraordinarily talented athletics coach and strict disciplinarian who later became the supervisor of La Salle Secondary School. The next person is L A Fernandez, an able administrator and a confident as well as a humourous public speaker who later succeeded S Ratnasingam as headmaster of the school.

  1. Ratnasingam – A Charismatic Leader

In a troika, all the three individuals are supposed to be of equal status. However, in my opinion, S. Ratnasingam, who always chose to wear a bowtie, was the undisputed leader of the pack. Ratnasingam, a Normal Class trained teacher had the vision, the drive and the will to unite all three schools. In this effort, the troika succeeded brilliantly.

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

Mr & Mrs S Ratnasingam

At that time and even now, it is quite common to see the headmasters of schools sharing the same premises being unnecessarily petty and small minded. Instead of pooling resources and being prudent, these small minded individuals insist on being difficult and are overly bureaucratic.

With the troika firmly in place there was unity in purpose and much was achieved at La Salle Brickfields during that golden era.

To his everlasting credit, Ratnasingam generously made time to undertake other civic and community-related responsibilities willingly. He was no mere pen pusher or a laid back, stodgy bureaucrat. He was mainly responsible for building a new 2 storey block for La Salle Brickfields. By his actions and his approach, he stood head and shoulders over the other headmasters of his time by being a leader who could inspire his team.

Ratnasingam also served a stint as Boy Scout Commissioner for Kuala Lumpur. In addition, he made time to serve as an adviser to the Juvenile Court in Kuala Lumpur for a number of years.

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

S Ratnasingam as Commissioner of Kuala Lumpur Scouts

In retirement, Ratnasingam stayed true to his DNA! He continued to contribute his time and effort behind the scenes to the Kuala Lumpur Befrienders.

Albert Rozario – A Leader with a Human Touch

Like S Ratnasingam, Albert Rozario was also a Normal Class trained teacher. Later on, he attended and successfully completed a year-long course at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute (STTI) in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur. He achieved a distinction grade in his field of specialisation i.e. Physical Education. Albert Rozario was also a good swimmer and a keen gymnast.

He had an affable personality and was pretty down to earth in his relationships with the teachers and admin staff. He also possessed a keen and sympathetic understanding of human nature and this was put to good use when he had to counsel a few individuals who had committed some malpractice.

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert Rozario and Rev Bro Gaston

Albert was also a talented administrator and a headmaster who readily supported his teachers’ efforts. He was also equally quick to recognise good performance. I can vouch for both – his strong support and due recognition during my 15 years of service at La Salle Brickfields.

Sometime in 1965, he successfully underwent a major operation, while at La Salle Brickfields, to remove an ailing kidney. He survived for more than 50 years with just one kidney.

Albert Rozario was married to a teacher, Mary who later became a headmistress at St Theresa’s Primary Convent, conveniently situated next door to La Salle Brickfields. They had eight children.

In view of his physical education qualifications and related abilities, he also served with considerable energy and enthusiasm for about three years as the Organiser for Physical Education at the Selangor Education Department.

One of his unique skills was his uncanny ability to get a teacher to undertake a difficult task. His approach was disarmingly unique: He would not summon you to meet him. Instead, he would casually accost you as you walked along the passageway to your class. As he reached you, he would put a friendly arm on your shoulder and then make the request – it was never an order or a directive. No one could ever turn down such a friendly approach!

Rev Bro Gaston – Good Rapid Writing Promoter

I remember meeting Rev Bro Gaston when I first reported for duty at La Salle Brickfields Secondary School in 1966. We exchanged pleasantries and indulged briefly in some small talk. However, over the years I, unfortunately, did not have much interaction with him.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

Rev Bro Gaston was not very much involved in the day to day administration of the school, leaving that important task to his able senior assistant ( deputy headmaster ), Albert Rozario. But he was a familiar sight in his smart white robe along the corridors and classrooms of La Salle Brickfields – both the primary schools as well as the secondary school.

Many old boys fondly remember this genial gentleman with a ready smile for introducing them to Good Rapid Writing – an activity forever associated with him.

This was a mission of crucial importance to Rev Bro Gaston because he believed that good rapid writing was a much-needed skill that students needed to master.

He emphasised the formation of each alphabet in a smooth flowing movement. A former student and an education professional himself, Loh Kok Khuan described it as: speed, modernity and poetry in motion! Loh Kok Khuan also mentioned that some alphabets seemed to resemble rockets and racing cars and that those were the heady years when the US was aiming to land a man on the moon.

Rev Bro Gaston was the master trainer in this field and he went around the many classes teaching the skills with a passion that was contagious. To encourage and motivate the boys to take this training seriously, he organised competitions in good rapid writing from time to time.

The prize was a Parker pen – a quality pen in those days that many could not afford. Kok Khuan also revealed that a classmate who excelled in this good rapid writing and in the process won many Parker pens much to the chagrin of his fellow classmates is Chang Hoe Yoon. By some strange coincidence, Hoe Yoon subsequently qualified as an engineer and worked for a reputable regional airline.

Rev Bro Gaston was also responsible for promoting the Ukulele musical instrument.

He encouraged the boys to take up this small, four–stringed guitar-like musical instrument. For the record, the Ukulele was introduced from Portugal into the Hawaiian Islands in about 1879.

After his retirement, he returned to Canada. He was not in the best of health when S Ratnasingam decided to pay him a visit. He was overjoyed by this unexpected visit from an old colleague and dear friend and perked up considerably. Rev Bro Gaston even made a brief visit to Malaysia later.

La Salle Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur was indeed very fortunate to have had such visionary and caring leaders during those formative years before and after Malaya gained its independence. They may have moved on but the teachers and many old boys do have wonderful memories to treasure.

6 thoughts on “Troika of Exceptional Educators and Leaders

  1. Hi Ben!
    A great profile of the LSB troika of Bro Gaston, S. Ratnasingam (Ratna) and Albert Rozario (Bart). As you put it : they were exceptional educators and leaders. They were so much a part of early LSB history and left such an enduring legacy.
    I was pleasantly surprised that my guest blog post on LSB inception attracted such an enthusiastic response. It must have touched a nostalgic chord with quite a number of old boys of LSB and others … evoking memories of a simpler but much kinder era that’s gone with the wind.

    1. Thanks for the feedback Denis. It is only proper and fitting that we remember and duly acknowledge these selfless leaders. Yes, it was a different, simpler and certainly kinder era.

  2. Dear Ben
    As always your writing has taken me back to those early days & I recall with great fondness all my teachers and head teachers at the two schools I was educated in, namely Batu Road Primary School(2) and Victoria Institution.
    Thank you Ben.

  3. As we were students we were not privy to the backgrounds of those three educators. Thanks, Mr Morais, for the background information about them. We have more respect for them now than earlier. Bro. Gaston had this uncanny habit of demanding a loud ‘thank you’ from students fresh from caning and who were in pain. He justifies that we owe him gratitude for correcting us!

    1. Thanks for the feedback Mahendra. It was a different era and Bro Gaston was not the only one to demand thanks for the caning he inflicted. I know of others who also demanded thanks. In those days too if you complained to your parents, you were also likely to get a scolding!

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