South Africa was sad to learn of the recent passing of well-known film and entertainment critic and print and broadcast journalist Barry Ronge on 3 July at the age of 74.
Barry was renowned for being bravely outspoken and was internationally respected for his wit and intellect. What is less well-known is that Barry taught English and Afrikaans at St John’s College from 1969 to 1971. He was also the Assistant House Master of Nash and lived in a small flat above the San.
In The Johannian of 1969, Mr B Ronge is welcomed to the Afrikaans department as the successor to Mrs N Naude. He is also credited that year for being part of a series of talks, where he spoke about ‘love poetry in English and Afrikaans’.
In 1970, People and Events in The Johannian credited him with organising the excursion for the Lower and Upper Fives and Sixth Form to see the film Oh! What a Lovely War on the 25th of March.
In the 1971 edition, the Headmaster’s Notes includes a farewell to Mrs MH Tenant and Mr BJ Ronge, as Barry left St John's to take up a lecturing post at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Old Johannians taught by him have fondly shared their memories of his brief stint at St John’s College. If you have any memories to share, please email [email protected]
It is so sad to hear about the passing of Barry Ronge. I remember him playing Simon and Garfunkel records to us as inspiration for Afrikaans essay writing. I remember being bored in class one day, stretching my arms back and lifting up the desk behind me. Unfortunately, I dropped it with a loud clatter. Barry looked up in a state of shell shock and threw me out of class. He was quite a sensitive soul. I met up with him at Rhodes years later when he was giving a lecture, he recalled throwing me out of class🙂. - Richard Foss 1971 Head of School
I remember him well as my English teacher and resident master in Nash. He was always polite and friendly and had a light-hearted view of even the most serious subjects, like English Literature, which he taught me. That was a long time ago, and I can’t remember the details, but I do remember his witty comments on Shakespeare’s writings. He brought a lighter side to understanding books, especially poetry, to the classroom. We really used to enjoy his classes. He taught me that studying does not have to be formal and boring and that one should pause to reflect on what you are studying. And, being able to see the lighter side made such a difference!
He was a kind soul, and we were never scared of him. We enjoyed that! Since my school days, I have followed his career and have read his writings with interest. The country has lost a gifted person - he will be missed! - Rob Barrie (Nash 1971)
When Barry Ronge arrived at St John’s, the Senior Master told him he was to coach rugby. The mind boggles now. He replied, “But I don’t know anything about rugby,” to which the Senior Master handed him a copy of Danie Craven’s book about rugby. He dutifully turned up for rugby the next day wearing tight psychedelic Bermuda shorts. He did not have to coach rugby anymore. He was also asked to give a talk on the film of the decade. He started his talk with, “The films of this decade can be summarised as ‘he wooed her, pursued her and finally ….ed her.” We loved him”. - Fr Angus Paterson (Hill, 1973)
Barry taught my English class in the early '70s, and I have very fond memories of his unorthodox (certainly for St John's at that time) teaching style. As pointed out by many of my peers, he was totally hopeless when it came to extra-curricular physical activities! But he was a character of note who will always be remembered for his incredible knowledge of the cinematic arts. R.I.P. Barry. - Bruce Kirby (Thomson 1974)
This is sad news. He was a good man, definitely not in the SJC mode. I remember him reading us a book in Flemish to illustrate its similarity to Afrikaans. He was assigned to supervise the track team practices and absolutely hated it, so we made a deal that I would run the practices, and he would sit in the shade and read a book, which was much more his speed. He was a man ahead of his time, thoughtful and caring while quietly questioning the traditional school culture and offering alternative ways of thinking about the world. A little bit of a closet revolutionary.” - Spencer Gear (Thomson 1970 / Sixth Form 1971)
Barry was once wearing a Kipper/Gaudy tie, and Spike Carter said to him, "I don't like your tie", to which Barry replied: "You're not supposed to, its insect repellent." - Darryl Morris (Alston 1970)
Spike Carter once told Barry that he disliked his flamboyant neckwear choice. Barry retorted that his colour preference was intended to act as an insect repellent and that, judging by Spike's comments, it was obviously working quite well! - Graham Woolford (Alston 1971)
He taught me Afrikaans and gave me some extra English lessons. I remember him bringing Romeo and Juliet to life for me, and helping me with Heart of Darkness. He also tried to give us an appreciation of film by taking a small group of us to see Psycho” and War and Peace, a Russian production that we saw in two parts. I also recall the “insect repellent tie” remark. His ties were notoriously colourful. - Geoff Fenn (Nash 1969)
I have memories of us teaching him how to drive his first car, a VW Beetle. We put it up on blocks, so the rear wheels did not make contact with the road, and no matter how hard he revved it, it would not move. - David Brown (Nash 1971)
I remember trips to watch art movies in obscure venues in Doornfontein and elsewhere. I also remember him trying to coach the U13C & D rugby teams and being a resident junior Housemaster in Nash. I can only reflect on how misplaced Barry was in the St John’s environment. - Erroll Duffett (Nash 1971)
One of my memories of Barry was his late-night arrival at St John's when he first took residence as an assistant Housemaster. The College buildings can be a little intimidating when you first see them, especially late at night. I think he eventually managed to find a Housemaster to show him his way. I bumped into him at the CNA in Highpoint Hillbrow several years after leaving school. He saw me and said, "Berg. One of the clever ones from the monastery." A lot of people are surprised when they hear he taught Afrikaans. - Lars Eric Berg (1970 Clayton 1970 / Sixth Form 1971)