Farewell to Bryn Thomas, a leader, family man and educator

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As a Director at Pixelfish Marketing, I have had the privilege of getting to know and befriend a great man, of which there are very few left on our planet, well at least by my standards. An upright and intelligent person, who through passion and commitment has taken an established school, entrenched in a rich legacy and evolved it into a highly efficient, ever-growing and successful point of pride throughout the largest schools holding group in Africa, Curro Holdings. 

I watched this man, increase the number of students, create jobs in a community in dire need of development, while dramatically increasing the offerings and opportunities for hundreds of learners. I am speaking of none other than the Executive Head of St Dominics Newcastle, Mr Bryn Thomas. 

Through my own dealing and experiences with Bryn, I have personally laid witness to his unrivalled loyalty to St Dominics Newcastle and all who call it home. The school began to transform shortly after his arrival and today, it is a beacon of excellence in NKZN, producing high-quality, successful future leaders. As a parent of St Dominics Newcastle, I sleep well, knowing that my child’s future is in the hands of such a man and his brilliant team. 

However, there are many in the NKZN community who do not know much about this man of many talents. So I took the time to sit down with Bryn and his vibrant wife, Samantha. In order to discuss how they as a family unit have remained a loving couple while dealing with personal life-changing challenges, managing massive distances between them and of course growing a school to never before seen, award-winning heights. This is what they had to say:

1. Who drew you into the education industry? 

A number of great people have impacted, influenced and guided me over the years. At school, my mentor was my History teacher and 1st XI cricket master, Mr Mark Berendt. My father and father-in-law have also been great supporters of mine over the years. But of all the influences, my wife Samantha has been my rock for over 25 years.

2. Can you remember your first day as a teacher and the stresses therein? 

Yes, it was an interesting challenge. I had a Grade 10 Standard Grade Business Economics Class, with 48 learners. I was only 22 and a student-teacher. Keeping control of a class was the biggest key, you needed a strong voice and a dash of fear to keep control. Luckily I’m quite loud and at 6’2 managed to scare enough of them into doing some work. Every child in that class passed at the end of the year and a number of them ended up with an A in Matric for Business Economics, which I’m proud of being a part of.

3. Being a man of sports, which achievements stand out the most for you?

Seeing so many boys go on to have successful careers has been a highlight. Many of them have given me tickets for sporting events they are playing in, which is also really kind of them to do. I’ve had Cian Healy (Irish Rugby) in one of my rugby programmes and Eion Morgan (England Cricket Captain) in one of my cricket teams when I was teaching in Ireland. I’m looking forward to watching the success of Thando Ntini, Akhona Mnyaka and Aviwe Mgijima (Cape Cobras), who I’ve had in various provincial cricket squads over the years.

4. Looking back on your career, tell us a moment which truly is a fond memory for you to recall?

Any time a child comes back as an adult and shares their success and says thank you for the small part that we as educators have played; is the pinnacle for teachers. To see children with limited opportunities making a success of themselves is also job satisfaction. In education, we have many moments of this, which is the best part of being a teacher.

5.  Who would you say is someone you would consider a role model?

In 20 plus years there are so many who cross your path, who you learn from each of them in their own special way. Currently, Shaun McMurtry is one of my mentors at Curro and from an educational viewpoint, he has been excellent for me.

6. As the Executive Headmaster of St Dominics Newcastle, tell us about some of the achievements and developments the school has enjoyed during your time?

My main focus has always been the growth of numbers, and to see classes now full is awesome. In my time here we opened two new Nursery grades, we upskilled our staff through various academic programmes, and this has contributed to the very high IEB average we produce annually. I’m also really proud of our improved university bachelor pass percentage, which has grown to 97%.

There has also been a massive spike in sports participation, which has positively impacted our results. In particular, the hockey results have seen us crack the top 50 national schools rankings for the first time in our history. The completion of the R20 million Dowthwaite Centre will also add to our Sporting Program for the future.

To continue the educational model, we have grown our Internship Program to include more teachers in training. There is a shortage of teachers who can teach IEB skills, and the Intern Program is remedying this.

I also love the higher-order thinking we offer through our Robotics Program, with a focus on the skills needed to make a difference to the national workplace in years to come. Leadership plays a major role in our school and the Pastoral care we offer has seen the formation of the Matric Boys Formal Dinner Club and Girls Empowerment Groups, which contribute to the life skills teenagers need today before they go into the cutthroat environment of the “real world’.

7.  As a family man, how do you juggle your demanding schedule with your family life?

Life starts at 5:30 for me and ends at 6pm. This is made easier in that my family don’t live in Newcastle so I don’t have the same family commitments in the evenings and over weekends.  This means I can be extra committed to my profession. However, the downside is that when I do get to spend time with my family, I find it hard to switch off from work. It’s something I’m working on, but luckily my family are committed to education and the Curro brand.

8. You often speak about the solid family unit you, your wife and son share, tell us a bit more about that?

Samantha has always been really supportive. We don’t always agree, and she is as passionate about things as I am, so a discussion usually becomes a debate, which I seldom win. Her support of me started at school, she was the cricket scorer, so was either supporting me that way or watching my matches. She was so committed to my drive in education that while we were studying, she helped pay for different stages of my studies. So I’ve been really blessed to have her as my wife.

9. Enjoying great success as the Executive Head of St Dominics Newcastle, what exciting news could share with us about the future of the school?

More growth is on the cards. We are currently completing a new Tuckshop, after which we start our new Coffee Shop in the Dowthwaite Centre. We are busy planning for a 2nd hockey Astro, so we can host National Hockey Tournaments. We are continuing with our overseas tour options in 2021 and we plan to unveil a new swimming pool complex with a 25 metre, 10 lane heated swimming pool, Learn to Swim Pool and gym.

10. If you could send a shout out to your wife and son, what would you say?

As a young man, I prayed for a God-fearing wife, and a family who honoured God, others and themselves. My prayers were answered, but God reminds us that when you have your prayers answered, it doesn’t mean you stop praying.

1.  Tell us about yourself, Sam?

As you know, I am a proud wife to Bryn and super-proud mom to our gorgeous boy Caleb – who will be 10 years old next week.  This is an especially happy event for us as a family.  When Caleb was born, we were told he would not make his 10th birthday.   Aside from being kept busy seeing to their needs, I head up a Nursery School – which originally started as a nursery school for children with heart conditions and health complications – but has grown to suit all children.  I am an animal lover (Caleb and I have 9 animals – not counting his fish).  I am a family person and so I love to spend time with family!  

2.  How did you and Bryn come to be and how long have you been together?

Bryn and I met in High School – I was 13 and Bryn 15.  He played club cricket for my Dad’s cricket team – and that’s where we first met – and then at school. So we’ve been together 25 years this year (married for 15).

3.  As a strong family unit, share with us your secrets in keeping your relationship strong and love-filled.

Keeping God in your marriage is key.  I feel we both communicate really well and lie really badly (so we both know when the other is lying!)  We are best friends and enjoy spending all our time together (living apart simply makes our friendship stronger).  We have always been crazy about each other and this has never changed.  We admire each other and spur each other on to be the best versions of our self!

4. You guys have dealt with a life-altering challenge with regards to your son, Caleb’s health. Can you give us a summary of what this little hero has had to deal with?

Shew – where do I begin?

Caleb was born on the 9th of March 2010.  I had been really ill through my pregnancy with him – so we knew that he would make his appearance early.  He was born over 2 months premature and was tiny at birth – only weighing 1.4kgs. 

He was admitted to the Neonatal ICU in East London and on day 3 we were told of his condition.  Caleb was born with Dextrocardia (his heart is on the right-hand side of his body), Atrial Ventricular Septal Defect (he only has 3 chambers to his heart instead of 4), Pulmonary Atresia (narrowed pulmonary arteries which were not properly connecting the heart to the lungs) and Situs Inversus (his other major organs were on the opposite sides of the body as to where they are normally). 

Caleb was critical for a period of 2 or so months while he remained in NICU.  Doctors could not operate until he reached at least 3kgs.  In May 2010, he started to struggle and we were flown on an aero-medical flight to Cape Town and were admitted to Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital.

He underwent open-heart surgery and went home after a month of being there.  Caleb then had another open-heart surgery in 2013.  He has since had 10 cardiac surgeries and spent approximately 300 days in the hospital.  He is due to have another open-heart surgery however, does not meet the criteria (the risk of this operation failing is too high).  If Caleb does not meet the criteria, he will need a transplant. 

What we have all been through has certainly been life-altering.  While it is extremely emotional and hard to deal with, we have been blessed in so many ways – God has been with Caleb every step of the way and has put such amazing doctors, nurses and people in our lives to help us through it all! 

We never dwell on the enormity of what we’ve been through or may still have to go through as we know there are people who have to deal with so much more.  We also believe that this is God’s plan for our family – a way for us to bring Caleb up knowing all that God has done for him – and a way for our story and our boy’s life to be a testimony to others.  We also firmly believe in living every day to it’s fullest – something we try to teach Caleb – and those around us, every day!

5. What advice can you give couples out there, on how to manage a successful relationship with a partner who lives thousands of Km’s away?

I’d give the same advice as I did for a happy marriage – God first, good communication and also acknowledge one another!

To end off, it is with a heavy heart that we bid Mr Thomas farewell from St Dominics Newcastle. As he, due to his outstanding achievements at St Dominics Newcastle, has been tasked to further develop Mt Richmore school.

His big character and instrumental leadership will be sorely missed at the school and in the community. From all of us Pixelfish Marketing and the Newcastillian, we wish you all the success in the world and may you do for Mt Richmore and their community as you did for NZKN. You are an asset to our community and will be sorely missed. God speed for the future my friend and may you and your family continue to grow from strength to strength.

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