national Arts Festival Banner

Sunday, January 4, 2015


Vera Castleman, writer and teacher, worked with the late Patrick Collyer when he taught at Brettonwood High School in Durban. This is her tribute to her friend and colleague:

"O Captain, My Captain …" Walt Whitman's words were immortalised when Robin Williams acted the part of John Keating in the cult movie Dead Poets Society (1989).

Brettonwood learners were blessed when Patrick Collyer joined the school and supplied his own version of John Keating – years before the film came out.

The Brettonwood social media page has been buzzing with words of praise and words of sorrow. Most past pupils feel that his teaching methods provided some of the most enjoyable, memorable and inspirational moments of their high school career.

He has been described as the greatest and kindest English teacher who inspired his learners and fueled their love for the study of English. He was an entertainer both in the classroom and out and in this way he wove his web of intrigue, spurring his students on as he manipulated their view of this subject. He changed their mindset. English changed from being a tolerable subject and became their favourite subject.

An ex-pupil (Sharleen Hudson) remembers that "he didn't just teach you a poem, he taught you the history behind it. I recall a three- day lesson on a poem about Helen of Troy – he went into the whole history of how it came about before he even touched on the poem. He was vibrant, young and enthusiastic. When he transferred out, it was a really sad loss for Brettonwood. He made a huge difference in our love for the English language and I was really grateful to have been lucky enough to have had him as a teacher.”

Brettonwood has joined hands to say a fond goodbye to this gentleman of note. – Vera Castleman