05 April 2021

Recalling my final year of high school 50 years ago and life since then

My blazer pocket badge that I have in a drawer.
CARPE VIAM means "Seize the road"

This is shared here for my fellow classmates of Florida Park High School who celebrate 50 years since we matriculated in 1971. Anyone else who is interested is welcome to read about it. 

Greetings from the Fairest Cape in the Whole Circumference of the Earth. I am Les Powrie, quiet, fairly good at Maths and Technical drawing, otherwise pretty much under that radar. I am amused that my highest marks were in Maths and Technical drawing – and my lowest ever mark was in Primary School – for a test in Arithmetic. Go figure… A red circle around a low mark…

I married Sally Swindell who was at Krugersdorp High School. She is the daughter of Simon Swindell whom some of you might remember. Well, I moved to Cape Town in 1981 to marry her because she was studying medicine at UCT. We have three daughters and two sons, managed to provide good educations for each of them, at present four are married and we have 8 grandchildren and another two on the way.

I've lived in Cape Town since 1981. I worked at Kirstenbosch for more than a third of a century. Life is wonderful. I hope that it has been wonderful for my fellow Class of 71 mates. Here is a little bit of my life – I understand if you think it is way too long and do not bother reading it all J

I was chairman of the Photographic Club at FPHS for a while - I still enjoy photography... I think the chair (Ken Pettey was that you?) was going overseas for a few months and it was suggested that I stand in for him. I kind of wondered if my being asked to lead the photographic club was the reason that, partway through matric I was appointed as a prefect. I never knew that being a prefect meant that I would have to read a scripture in assembly! Suddenly, I was told that I was on in a few minutes. One of the other prefects (Louise [Bibb] Helps – was that you?) suggested that I use the default 1 Corinthans 13. What a wonderful world we would live in if we all, or even half of the people, lived by what that chapter says!

Some of us in the photographic club were treated to a flip in a small aircraft as a reward
for winning a competition. Here are two views of part of the West Rand in 1971. 
Two of the walkers in the 100 hour walk.
This is a photo of me at the time
Jake the Peg who sang at a fete or something
The rubber stamp for the Photo Club
Roy Jackson - did he matriculate with us?

I value my time and association with you – my fellow Parkies. Some of you I do not remember, and probably some I really did not know… We were a fairly large group. Some of you live in treasured memories of times spent together, things that I learned from you, and your friendship. During the years I have spent time with Ken Pettey (at Onderstepoort) and Peter Laubscher (working for the Leprosy Mission in Cape Town), Louise Helps (now in Provo, Utah, USA?). I bumped into Graham Wilks at Wits. Have I left out anyone? Otherwise, I have not been much of a pal to any of you. Sorry if that is a disappointment to anyone L

I was in the army, Engineers Corps in Kroonstad, and they needed a chef and I volunteered since my Mom had taught me to cook, and I worked in the officers’ mess until the end of my nine months (the very last intake to do nine months!), doing wonderful catering, formal dinners, three course meals, and sommer alles, yep, even peeling potatoes and washing dishes. I remember the comment that the officers and the Sappers (the Private rank in Engineers Corps) get the same rations, but the chefs do very different things with those rations. Well, I got to do chef work in Kroonstad, then during my time in the Reserves at army battle school at Lohathla and on the border at Oshakati. I was glad that my mother had taught me to bake, cook, and all because it helped me to have a very fulfilling time in the Defence Force.

I then served for two years as a missionary in South Africa for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Then I started my studies at Wits in 1975. BSc majoring in botany and zoology, including chemistry, physics, biochemistry, ecology, genetics, biometry, and even a course in English literature since we had to do one arts course towards our degree. It took me four years to do the three year degree – I had to repeat first year Botany and Zoology, both my majors… I then did BSc (Hons) in plant ecophysiology. I enjoyed what I learned, but it was clear to me that I had an engineering brain, practical, and not academic. I relate to a comment made by my older brother who said of himself ‘I am just a worker’. Yep – I have some impact as a scientist, but I found my niche as a worker using my engineering brain to find technological solutions to ecological problems for which my studies equipped me well to understand biodiversity and ecology for which I could find solutions using technology.

I worked for a year at Pratley Perlite Mining Company as an horticultural chemist before moving to Cape Town. I then worked as a laboratory technician at University of Stellenbosch Medical School for more than 18 months, then taught at Herzlia Middle School for two years. Then I joined National Botanical Gardens to study for an MSc in plant chemical taxonomy. Thus started my affiliation with Kirstenbosch (National Botanical Gardens, Botanical Research Institute, National Botanical Institute, finally becoming South African National Biodiversity Institute), including 14 months as botanist and education officer at Lowveld NBG in Nelspruit, then back to Cape Town working in stress ecology, climate change studies, leading IT at NBG in the Cape, vegetation mapping, ecology, and all sorts of exciting things at Kirstenbosch and at all of our 11 gardens around South Africa, now also including the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria. I’ve been to all of them except the Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre – yet… I was not a director, manager or leader other than leading Health & Safety – I had no desire to be, but delighted in helping other people to be great leaders – but I did mentor a few interns and colleagues, some of whom now graciously thank me for helping them to develop worthwhile skills and they now work in good roles in provincial and local government departments, SANBI, and elsewhere. I hope that some value has come out of my efforts in ecology and in human capital development. I absolutely loved my work in biodiversity for a staggering more than a third of a century and a third of the existence of Kirstenbosch.

Well, now that I have been put out to pasture to make space for the younger generations, I am enjoying retirement, taking my wife to some of the places around South Africa that I visited as an ecologist. I decided to qualify as a tour guide (COVID has prevented us from doing much in this industry!) and I enjoy sharing the beautiful wonders of the Western Cape with others.

My time at Florida Park High School has been an important foundational part of my life, and that includes the association with my classmates as part of that foundation. I learnt together with some of you in English, Afrikaans, Mathematics, Science, Biology, Metalwork (Industrial Arts) and a bit of Accounting. Not all of you did the same elective subjects, but my subjects helped to prepare me for a meaningful and fulfilling career. I thank you for your part in my life. Now, may we help to build the next generations, particularly our children and children’s children to have meaningful lives and make a positive difference in our beautiful country – or wherever we are now, dispersed all around the globe.