ALUMNUS – CLASS OF 1950
Meet Mr Ivan Cassidy, who was born in 1932 and is 86. As a member of the class of 1950, he is among our oldest living alumni
Meeting Ivan and Maureen Cassidy was only going to happen once they were in their 80s, really. Before this time, this power couple would simply have been too busy! Mr Cassidy spent his professional career as an accountant, then property developer, and Mrs Cassidy went back to school at age 49 to begin her second career as a Montessori teacher. Before that, she cared for the couple’s six children. She retired at 78. “It’s only now that we have time for crossword puzzles and knitting,” she jokes. And golfing…
Sacred Heart College re-met Mr Cassidy at our charity golf day on 2 November 2018, when his second-born daughter, Roslyn, thought her father, a keen golfer, would enjoy the experience. And indeed, we were delighted to meet a senior alumnus. We were very eager to hear his tales and imbibe some of the institutional knowledge and memories that an alumnus from the early days brings with him.
Class of 1950
“We had two classes per grade. I was in the Matric A class,” recalls Mr Cassidy, showing his Matric certificate and his class picture, which he has brought with him. “There was also a Matric B class. I was usually a good scholar and I was surprised only to receive a second-class matriculation pass, but I never pursued it or asked for a remark or anything. I just remember that it was odd.”
Mr Cassidy took Latin, one of the two options for a compulsory additional language. The other was Hebrew – to cater for the large number of Jewish students who attended the college in those days.
A benefited student
Mr Cassidy’s story of how he got to Marist Brothers Observatory, as the school was then known, is fascinating. Mr Cassidy’s father, Herbert, was the son of an Afrikaans mother (surname Coertzen) and Irish father, who was baptised at Belgravia, according to the baptismal certificate, which Mr Cassidy managed to track down. The family was at that stage of the Dutch Reformed church.
Herbert married Mr Cassidy’s mother, Anna Magdalena Nel. Mr Cassidy picks up the story: “I was a benefited scholar at Marist Brothers. My parents were poor, working class, and couldn’t afford to send me to a private school. We lived in Brixton, and my father was a stoker on the railways.” Mr Cassidy shows us a picture from 1933 of his father, the loco driver, on a train that had fallen over.
“My elder sister Beryl was quite ill when she was born. My parents sent for the predikant to come baptise her at home [this was common practice if parents feared for the life of their newborn], but he wouldn’t come. So my father turned to Fr Peron, the parish priest at Mayfair, and asked him to come baptise her. Fr Peron agreed, but told my parents that they now had an obligation to bring their children up Catholic,” Mr Cassidy recalls.
And so it was. When it came time to school their children, the family turned once more to Fr Peron. Beryl was sent to the End Street Convent with his assistance. And in 1943, at age 11, Ivan was able to come to Marist Brothers, with Fr Peron arranging the scholarship. The junior classes were at that stage located at Koch Street. “I came to the Obs campus in 1947 for std 7 onwards,” Mr Cassidy says.
“I remember I had to take two trams to get to Koch Street, and to get from Brixton to Observatory I used a tram to come into town and then a bus to Louis Botha Avenue. Then there was a stairway from Louis Botha to Eckstein Street.” We spend some time wondering whether the stairway is still accessible to the public.
“My father died young, at 49, of a heart attack. But he kept his promise to Fr Peron, and he even converted to Catholicism at 45!”
Mr Cassidy has a picture of his 1943 class. He is easily identifiable: he is the only child without a blazer in the picture. (The picture is reproduced in The Maristonian centenary edition 1889-1989.) His parents could not afford one.
“A blazer would have cost about 2 pounds 5 shillings,’ says Mr Cassidy. “That was the money we used before the government introduced decimalisation (rands and cents) in 1962.”
What a contrast with today, where children can receive a blazer from Janet Balchin’s second-hand store next to the tuck shop for R50, and probably for free if money is tight. In any case, nowadays we would ask any child who had forgotten their blazer on picture day to borrow a friend’s for the duration of the photo. Times and norms change.
Nevertheless, Mr Cassidy says, his education was “very privileged”. He considers himself fortunate to have studied here and remembers his best friend Denys Hayden with great fondness. In fact, the two men now both live in the San Sereno retirement community in Bryanston.
“At Koch St, the man who taught us football was Brother Gustav. We played on a tarmac surface inside the tiny quadrangle of the school’s tiny grounds. I think that school sat on half an acre, whereas the Observatory grounds were 32 acres [can we confirm these sizes?]”
“When we were at school, the convention was that every Brother was given a nickname,” Mr Cassidy continues. “Brother Raymond was the principal in 1950 – his nickname was Coss, short for Cossack, because he was Russian. Brother Aquinas was the head of the Koch St campus. His nickname was Bulldog because he was fierce.”
Everything was much rarer in those days. “The spoilt kids got Coca-Cola in their lunch boxes. If we bought anything from the tuck shop, it was jawbreakers or toffee apples. In 1943 at Koch St, we used to go outside and cross the road into the Defence Force’s Union Grounds. You could get a Perks pie for 1 (shilling) and a tiekie/tickey.”
World at war
Mr Cassidy lived through the years of the Second World War 1939-1945. He remembers the war years as hard ones when many fathers went “up North” (many South African volunteers were posted to Egypt to fight the German General Rommel there). “Many didn’t return.”
The Cassidys also recall the blackouts, where windows were covered with dark material to make Johannesburg harder to spot for aircraft bombers. (The war was never fought on South African soil but this was a precaution, more commonly practised in seaside towns with harbours so as not to give away the positions of docked ships.)
“Everything was rationed, and we received government-issue brown flour. This was not popular at the time and everybody preferred white bread. Almost every house had a big sieve, which we used to separate the bran from the white flour. And do you know what we used to do? We used to feed our chickens the bran! It was illegal, but everybody did it anyway,” Mrs Cassidy laughs.
Today, we tend to take medical advances for granted. But Mr Cassidy had a brother, Michael, who was eight years younger than himself, and who was born extremely prematurely weighing only one pound (about half a kilogram). These days, such a small baby would spend months in intensive care and only be allowed to leave once it has grown to about 2kg. Against all odds, Michael survived, but Mr Cassidy remembers his mother still feeding him breastmilk from an ear dropper at three years old. He finally walked at 5. At 7, he contracted polio in the epidemic of 1947. These days, we are all vaccinated against this horrible and dangerous disease, which claimed many children’s lives, and left others partially paralysed and with respiratory problems. But Michael survived. Mr Cassidy shows us a picture (also from The Maristonian, I think) of Michael, on the far right, acting as scholar patrol on the Koch Street campus.
In 1950, the school was an all-boys school and it was supposed to enforce the racially segregated education policies of the Nationalist government, which had come to power in 1948. Nevertheless, Mr Cassidy recalls that Coloured and Chinese boys attended the school, and that this was a source of conflict with the Transvaal education administration authorities. “But the Brothers ignored them,” says Mr Cassidy. “For instance, Peter Tim was in my class, his parents had a café in Bez Valley. They were Chinese. And we had about 25% Jewish boys. Boris Livshitz from our class is still alive and lives in Emerald Woods, I think.”
(Another picture from The Maristonian Centenary page 43 coincidentally shows Fr Peron, with the Transvaal administrator of education holding forth at a long table, and one of the individuals pictured is Joe Richardson, for whom Mr Cassidy articled in his accounting firm later.)
“We had three vocations who became priests from my year or thereabouts,” remembers Mr Cassidy. “Norman Maroun became the Florida parish priest, Garth Michelson ended up in the Cape and Mario Ceruti (possibly from the year below me) went to Marianhill in KZN.”
“Observatory was a very fancy area at the time. We had boarders here at school too – a small group of about 30 or 40 boarders. They came mainly from Mozambique, Portuguese boys whose families sent them from what was then known as Lorenzo Marques (Maputo).”
“I had happy school days,” says Mr Cassidy. “Oh, one naughty thing we did, we used to pinch the Brothers’ fruit from the Orchard, which really was an orchard at the time. They had lovely yellow peaches. I got caught by Brother Patrick one day, and I surely got 6 cuts from Coss the following day.”
Mr Cassidy was a keen sportsman. “I played first team cricket in std 8 in 1948 (not after that). Brother Ralph was our coach and we called him Johnny, after the heavyweight boxing champ Johnny Ralph!”
“I enjoyed rugby, and we played in a league with Jeppe, KES, St John’s and Helpmekaar. I enjoyed rugby but my father wasn’t a huge fan. He preferred to watch me play soccer – I played for Crown Mines club.”
“After school, I registered with the Government Mines Training School. They would put us through university to become geologists or mining engineers or whatever. We got a salary of 50 pounds a month! My father as a loco driver earned only 80 pounds by the end of his career. So that was a lot of money and I was keen, but my father was dead set against it. So in 1 January 1951 I went to Crown Mines and I resigned. I spoke to Br Coss and told him I couldn’t go to the mines. He arranged my apprenticeship with Joe Richardson as a trainee accountant. I earned 5 guineas (5 pound 5 shillings) in my first job…
“We got married in 1956 as I finished my articles. The month we got married, I was earning 26 pounds a month as a 5th year articled clerk and Maureen was earning 42 pounds a month as a bank manager’s secretary. Later on, I was a financial director of a company in Krugersdorp, I earned R600 a month and that was enough to have 6 children in private schools!”
I hated accounting and it was no surprise I left to go into property. First I joined an estate agency, then became a property developer. We did a lot of work developing the industrial parts of the Honeydew area. I developed the original Laser Park.”