Sunday, December 2, 2007

The School Matron - Miss McConkey

Matron (Miss McConkey) and school boys' pranks

The Matron I remember

The Peace Corps was purportedly conceptualised by John F. Kennedy when he was the President of the United States. His brother-in-law Shriver was the man behind the whole organisation. JFK made this often quoted statement which was imprinted in hearts of almost all literate youths in the world, " Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country." It was this, many people said, that sent hundreds of thousands of starry eyed, hopeful, energetic, American youths to the developing world to help make a difference, to bring the needy out of the shadows of illiteracy , poverty and ill health.

And because of the world wide popularity of the Peace Corps at that time, Tanjong Lobang in particular was also a beneficiary. We as students also benefited. In this article, I will write about Miss McConkey, who as a Peace Corps Volunteer came to Tanjong Lobang School in January 1964 and stayed until December 1965. She was so good at her work and it was also partly because she loved Tanjong Lobang very much. It was a commitment typical of Peace Corps throughout the world.

There were 10 things I associate with Matron McConkey.

Firstly, I realised, and for the rest of my life, the full meaning of the the word "Matron" .I firmly believe that every Matron in the schools of Sarawak should perform like her. She should be the role model for all Malaysian school or college matrons in fact.

Secondly, she lived in the Peace Corps quarters next to the Girls' Hostel "Penelope". This quarters had long been pulled down in the development of the school in the last fifty years or so. The quarters was purposely assigned to her so that she could be near the girls, which numbered less than a hundred, mainly from the Orang Ulu community and some Chinese from Limbang, Bintulu,the Baram, Kanowit, including Kho Poh Tin whom I remember fondly as she came from Limbang like me.

Thirdly, as we called her Matron only, out of respect, I never knew real name until after I left school. In fact, at that time, it was impolite to call our teachers by their full name. We called our teachers, Sir, Miss, or just Teacher. Perhaps it was because of this, many students did not get to know the names of their teachers.

Fourthly, I can still remember her typical day as I observed her "unbreakable, sure routine of her role as matron" and it was very military like in routine. She would come very early, walking to the school, without fail (I think she never had sick leave) and checked the kitchen, and the refrectory and then when the school started, she would be in her office. throughtout the day, she would administer to those who fell sick. And in fact, her office, which was next to the Principal's office, was the dispensary for the school. In her room, would be the cabinet for medicines, ointment, bandages, alcohol, scissors, anything you could imagine for a small clinic.

Then she would take time to check the cleanliness of the boarding houses and to find out who were sick and unable to attend classes. Those who were sick like Robert Madang, with mumps ,had to be isolated in put in the sick bay. those who came under her care would never forget the Florence Nightingale touch as she was a very genuine and personal carer.

Fifthly, she shared our food and that was a very endearing aspect to many of us native students. Together with Mr Nicholl and Mr. Bob Lynn they would eat with us. This was partly to ensure that quality of school food was really up to the mark. We were very conscious of their presence and so we behaved very well. Perhaps this was how we developed our "fine" table manners. We never made unnecessary noise, or ate voraciously or behaved like "monkeys" like many of the modern kids today. We were became very careful and polite diners. Years later, when I guided my students and my own children, table manners were my top priority. I have Matron and the leading teachers to thank for. there was definitely a big difference between "dining" and "eating fast food".

Sixthly, Miss McKonkey was tall,slim, and in her fifties.To me,she looked very fit and very healthy, and most importanlty, kind and benevolent. She wore nice spectacles and she would also ride her bicycle every day too. Her attire would also be a white blouse and a blue denim skirt which would flutter in the wind as she cycled along the road. She would wear different skirts, but they would be always having blue as a main colour. In that way, I would always remember her being very American in her colour choice. Her blue and white became like a uniform of a matron in retrospect. I can still see her light coloured bicycle as if they were right in front of me.

Seventhly, an amusing incident would always come to my mind, when thinking about Matron. It only showed how much the boys liked her. It was my first time, following Edward Gella and Emapni Lang in raiding the pantry. The two boys and two others, Tan and Liaw, were having some serious fun trying to get the lovely biscuits which were meant for the teachers for their morning tea break. We ate all the biscuit ration which she had already carefully laid out for the next day. So the boys all agreed that we must leave one biscuit for Matron. It was Empani who said, "This biscuit is for Matron."

The next day, we peeped at the staff room and sure enough, there was no biscuit for their morning tea. I remember that no fuss was made out of it. But Matron had her one biscuit in a very reflective way. It was very painful to see that. And we never "raided" the biscuits again. I am not sure if the teachers suspected any one. But then many boys had made attempts to get extra food because food was never enough for growing boys, who did not have any money to buy extra food.

Eighthly, from 3 to 4 every day, Miss McKonkey would be there with us at our work party. I have very fond memories of work party because that was how we "pay back" our beloved school for what it did for us. We kept the school clean and repaired all the broken furniture. We had a lot of fun working and learning at the same time. We were like "keeping our house clean" and our family was the entire school community , including our beloved Matron. I believe that many of us were indeed very grateful that the school even had a "resident nurse" to look after our health and well being.

Ninthly, during all the Sports Days that she was with us, she was there for us with all the equipment ready. It was very reassuring to have her presence there. And Sports Day would just be another memorable day with nothing untoward. Some of the students would definitely remember how they were given good rub downs by the Matron and the girls who were given the roles to attend to the "injured".

Finally, I remember her as a person who never raised her voice at any one of us. Even though she was not what we call the fierce type, we held her in great respect because she was just so firm and fair. and I presume that she was very at home with the girls and the girls with her.

I can still see her very clearly now, if I were an artist I could paint a very fine portrait of her. A school would definitely be an excellent school with a Matron like Miss McConkey.