Much loved teacher John Mitchell dies

2008-11-25 00:00

John Carlyle Mitchell, former headmaster of King’s School in Nottingham Road, died yesterday morning. He was 80.

King’s School, a co-educational primary school noted for its innovative approach to education, was one of the first private schools to admit children of all races.

Mitchell was born in Pietermaritzburg in 1928. He was educated at Milton Junior School in Bulawayo, at King’s School (where his father was headmaster) and St Aidan’s, Grahamstown. He studied English and psychology at the Pietermaritzburg campus of the University of Natal.

When his father retired in 1955, Mitchell took over as headmaster of King’s and took a strong position on apartheid. “I thought it of little relevance just teaching children the customs and manners of the ruling classes,” he told The Witness in an interview earlier this year. “I set about making it clear that colour is not a determinant.”

“If I had what today would be called a ‘mission statement’ it would be that I like children to be brave, compassionate, colour-blind and alert — it would be as simple as that.” King’s School became co-educational in 1967 and in 1977 black children were admitted to the school contrary to the National Party’s apartheid policies.

Mitchell, who taught English and history, was well-known for his love of poetry, an affection he passed on to generations of children who knew him as “Mr John”.

Colin Gardner, a friend and King’s School board member, described Mitchell as a “Christian gentleman — humane, serious, relaxed, open-minded. The wonderful loving and warm ethos of King’s School was in many ways moulded by him and his wife Mary.”

Mitchell is survived by his wife, 10 children, 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.

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