Tribute to the Late Samuel Horton Maurice Jones Our Master Sam Jones

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

At the Requiem Mass and Thanksgiving Service at the St. Mary's Cathedral Church, Banjul on Tuesday 30 January 2018 at 4.00 pm for most people the late Samuel Horton Maurice Jones was simply called Sam Jones because of his simplicity and because of how he was liked and admired by all Christians and Muslims alike, Wollofs, Mandinkas and Akus, among others, as well as the old and young. Among his innumerable Ndongo pupils he was affectionately called Batch in coded Ndongo jargon of the time. For his relatives he was the adorable and respected “Uncle Sam”.

Sam Jones was an educated and enlightened Gambian patriot whose outreach encompassed a wide spectrum of national life including what today is popularly and benignly defined as civil society, (Teachers Welfare, Gambia Teachers Union) as well as the erstwhile burning issue of the political and constitutional evolution of Gambia). The nation has benefitted a lot in his wisdom in choosing a teaching career and counselling young people who passed through his hands. In his mission he helped in the building of the Gambian nation and setting up a model for a strong education system in The Gambia. (Ba Trawally renowned Educator, prolific Writer, Journalist etc).

Sam Jones, Pupil of Methodist Boys High School

In his comprehensive autobiography Kairaba, the first President of The Gambia gives us in Chapter 9 The Future Belongs to Us, some insightful revelations about Sam Jones and the environment in the school which became popularly known as BHS.  We know from this authentic and authoritative source that in 1940/41 Sam was among a plethora of bright pupils who would later hold high office in the immediate post war colonial administration and after Independence in 1965, hence Sir Dawda’s prophetic prediction. They included Sam George (Solicitor General), C.I Jagne (Town Clerk), Sam Sarr (Ambassador), Ernest Bidwell (Medical doctor), Sam Palmer (Medical doctor), Albert Andrews (Teacher), Mathias George (Priest), Louise Mahoney Njie (Educationist), Dawda Kaira Jawara (First Gambian President) among many others.

In a vivid description of the May 1940 Speech Day where Governor Sir Thomas Southern Chief Guest of Honour distributed the prizes, Sir Dawda recalled “Sam Jones reputed to beone of the cleverest boys in the school, being called up stage to receive the Richard Cooper Prize for excellence in Religious Knowedge”. Jawara revealed that he drew such great inspiration from the cheers that went up for Sam that he vowed to work hard so that one day he would win a prize and receive it from the hands of the Governor. In 1941, the following year, Kairaba won the book prize but because of the War there was no Speech Day that year. However, in 1942 the joint Boys and Girls High School Speech Day was organized and Jawara then received the Richard Cooper Prize from the hands of Governor Sir Hilary Blood and thereby made history by being the first Muslim boy to win the prize. That paved the way for Muslims to win the Prize and that included M.B. Wadda, (Secretary General subsequently) and, if my recollection is good, Hassan Jagne (Educationist Gambia High School) and Alieu Jagne (Laboratory Technician RVTH) all my seniors I met in school from 1949 to 1955.

Sam had made such excellent scores in the Standard 7 Exams that he was placed straight into Form 4 instead of Form 1 or 2 as was the usual requirement and practice. He had done so well that the Director Education, then a colonial expatriate, expressed amazement that Sam knew so much about International Relations. Modestly Sam replied that he knew so many things from reading widely.  At the age of nine Sam had already been reading the Times of London from his father’s collection. Jawara said that he was so inspired by the cheers that went up for Sam that there and he decided to emulate him in the quest for academic excellence.

In another context in Kairaba, Sir Dawda described how desperate he had become when he lost so much of his library including Shakespeare, Plato, Freud, Hegel among others and were nowhere to be found, not even the famous libraries and bookshops in England could solve his problem. It was, therefore, with great delight and relief that he learnt that a collection of such great classics existed in the home library of one of his former schoolmates, Sam Jones.

Sam Jones Back in MBHS in the 1950s as a Teacher

When I proudly entered the BHS in January 1949, the Pupil population was between 100 and 120. In Form 1 we were originally 11 in the class at the beginning of the School Year (then January to December) but by the end of the year we were only 9. Late Emmanuel Rendall was our Class Master.

From Form 2 to 5A the average class numbered about 20 pupils. With these numbers it was possible for the Principal to make a collective roll call of the whole school every morning in the relatively small hall of the imposing old building facing Dobson Street.

Most of the Senior Teachers were expatriates namely, J.J Baker the elegant (Principal), S.G Mules the disciplinarian, R.P Pye the humourist all British, and Seth Jeckson and Asamoah from the Gold Coast now Ghana. The Gambian staff at the time included Albert Andrews, sports guru, Gabriel Roberts, Emannuel Rendall and subsequently Coleridge Cole.

As a graduate teacher in BHS Sam Jones was the only Gambian of that lofty academic status at the time. (Ba Trawally)

An extraordinary phenomenon that characterised the school was that the majority of pupils were Muslims in a Methodist School Christian School where everyone was treated equally in every respect. That was an exemplary model of interfaith coexistence and mutual respect talked about so much today which characterize our peaceful ancestral way of life in our dear Gambia in which all the people are closely related.

Sam was an accomplished pedagogue. Although his speciality were mainly English and Geography, he could teach any subject including Maths, Science, French and Religious Knowledge thus able to spontaneously and effectively fill any teaching gap when a teacher was absent. He even taught us Latin in Form VB as an extracurricular subject and made his pupils master grammar and the art of self expression whether written or oral, and introduced us to Shakespeare, Chaucer and other literary giants. Sam was simply an iconic scholar, maitre du verb, and a captivating communicator whom all of us, his pupils, have never ceased to emulate. Simply put Sam was a an iconic scholar.

Above all he was a guardian to each and every pupil of the School in general and his class in particular by making impromptu and regular visits to our respective homes spread all over Bathurst from Halfdie and Portuguese Town to Soldier Town and the New Towns. How he had the energy and managed the time is still baffling to me ! In a way that kept us on our toes even after school for the unexpected visit always being prepared as a good scout.

He instilled discipline by example and strict dress code which stood me in good stead years later when I became a diplomat in the Gambia Foreign Service following in his footstep as the country's first career diplomat serving in the nascent Gambia Office then located within the Sierra Leone High Commission in London on the eve of Gambia’s independence. Earlier he had served as Deputy Financial Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, again a first in the History of our country Gambia.  Sam was also the first Gambian Director of Education. On hindsight it seems that Sam was born with the natural endowment and spirit of a pioneer in all his endeavours.

BATHURST BOYS CLUB

Sam Jones took over the management of the Bathurst Boys Club from Father Coote later Bishop of the Gambia and the Rio Pongas. It was then located behind the Albert Market.  After school we followed him to the Club from six to nine in the evening where under his supervision we learnt and practised many indoor games including table tennis, darts, chess and boxing thereby producing future national champions in boxing and table tennis and many talented athletes in these disciplines. Regulars at the club included Lai Camara (Captain), Hatib Janneh, James Abraham, Demba Ndow, Ousman Sallah, Abou Dandeh, Badou Samba, Ade Fowlis, Shyngle and myself and many more. We trusted him and had confidence in his paternal interest and capacity to protect us the majority being between 12 and 15 years old.

The Club was later relocated to Allen Street as the Youth Centre under Pa Ogoo, where many young Banjulians enjoyed the legacy of Sam. What a pity that Sam’s edifice, his legacy to youths of Banjul and The Gambia as a whole, was demolished several years ago for unknown and obscure reasons and without any known plan to rebuild it. The timely restoration of the Youth Centre on the same site will be one of the fitting reminders to immortalize the legacy of Sam Jones for his immeasurable sacrifice for the youths of Banjul and The Gambia as a whole. This would be a fitting Memorial to Sam Jones.

With Sam, education was not only in the exclusive confines of the classroom and the small school compound. He made us discover the outside world  by organizing  excursions and geographical outings like our long trek by foot to Berrending in Niumi North Bank to visit the crocodile pool. He also led us in excursions and outings to historic sites in Banjul and the Kombos

Sam was a great patriot who gave everything he had to his country by investing his entire lifetime, knowledge, resources and energy in young people without forgetting the elderly for him he had so much affection, respect and sympathy. It is in this context we recall the recall the pugnant reminder of Hampate Bah the great and erudite Malian Social Anthropologist, Historian and Islamologue who wrote decades ago that when a great man dies in Africa it is like burning down a whole library. This is sadly the tragic truth in many cases. But it behoves us all especially the large body of Sam’s students and talibes, family, friends and the nation at large to ensure, in the most appropriate manner, that the legacy of Sam Jones is immortalized for, as the great poet Longfellow also wrote, “When a great man dies, For years our ken, The light he leaves behind him lies upon the path of men.”

Finally, as we sadly say adieu to Sam our departed Master, we, his former pupils and all, I am sure, fervently pray that he is received into the eternal glory of Aldjana Firdawssi, the highest abode in paradise, reserved for the best of humanity after life in this temporal bas monde.

Ebou Taal

On Behalf of Ex-Students of the Methodist Boys High School (MBHS)