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“A tribute to my old teacher, Francis Hong Tiy” (FT 14/Sep//2019)


A tribute to my old teacher, Francis Hong Tiy (FT 14/9/2019)







It was with great sadness that I read in this week’s Fiji Times of the passing of one of my great old teachers at Marist Brothers High School, Francis Hong Tiy.  In my first year at MBHS in 1963, Francis was one of my two extremely respected and impactful lay teachers, alongside Dr. Ahmed Ali (who later became my colleague at USP), then both new graduates from NZ universities.


I do not doubt that what I have become in life has been strongly influenced by all my teachers at primary and secondary school, both the Marist Brothers and lay teachers like Francis Hong Tiy and Dr. Ahmed Ali.

While it has to be a sad day for anyone when their good old teachers pass on, we must celebrate their lives which have contributed to making our society decent for all.

Teachers and students

Like parents, no one really knows what influence teachers have on their students’ lives.

But with “teachers” whose very occupation in life is to “teach” students with whom they are in contact more hours in the day than many parents, teachers probably have as much if not more influence on students’ lives than their parents.

This was especially so fifty years ago when the teaching profession attracted the best and brightest of graduates from universities, and all society as well as students had the greatest of respect for “Teacher Ji” or qase ni vuli or Brother X.

When my cohort graduated from university, a large number of us did take up teaching, as did Francis Hong Tiy and Ahmed Ali.

But in the last few decades and globally, teaching has lost its attraction as desired careers for academically good school leavers, in favor of better paying occupations in commerce and the other professions.

Or some start off as teachers but move on to other more attractive professions, as also did Francis Hong Tiy.

Undoubtedly, teachers have lost the social respect they once enjoyed.

Even here in Australia, attempts are being made to enhance teachers’ salaries and perks in order to attract the better quality teachers so as to improve student performance, especially in regional areas where all indications are that students are lagging way behind (just as in Fiji).

Francis’ cohort of teachers

Those of us who started MBHS in 1963 were taught by not just some good old Marist Brothers like Brother Anthony, Brother Cletus and Brother Placid, but a crop of exciting young university graduates like Francis Hong Tiy, Ahmed Ali, Lionel Low and Paul Ellis (who have sadly all passed on), especially when we had our own sights set on going to university.

It is hard to pinpoint what there was about them that made them all very special and how they had their impact on us.

They certainly knew their academic stuff which they communicated extremely well, perhaps even better than the career Marist Brothers who may not have had the same rigorous academic courses under their belts.

But teachers like Francis Hong Tiy were also passionate in their teaching which came through in their teaching.

They were also passionate in coaching in the extracurricular activities like sports which was such an integral part of out lives, especially sports-mad kids like me. Francis was a soccer and athletics coach, Lionel Low was a keen gymnastics teacher and soccer coach, and Ahmed Ali was a knowledgeable cricketing coach.

Without doubt, these lay teachers with “normal human lives” were role models for us students, especially in contrast to the Marist Brothers teachers whose religious calling and daily attire set them apart, or our own parents whose lack of educational qualifications and daily occupations did not fit the bill as “role models” for a working life.

During my university breaks, I also did brief teaching stints at Marist when I came to know Francis and Ahmed as colleagues and hence socialized at a different and more personal level (see photo of Francis at one of our teachers’ socials).

I also joined Ahmed Ali and my great MBHS chemistry teacher Yadhu Nand Singh later on as a lecturer at USP, and came to appreciate their pioneering efforts at a university then dominated by expatriates.

Without any doubt, these old teachers of mine, like Francis, were not just “teachers” of school curriculum, but persons of great personal integrity whose own lives helped to set my moral compass in life and commitment as an economist to ethics and the public good.

Francis’ work in life

Francis Hong Tiy later on went into commerce as an owner and manager of a very successful shipping company.

Meeting with him occasionally and his staff like Harry Chand, I knew that in business as well, he retained his warmth and generosity as a sincere and kind human being, a person of utmost integrity, just as he had as my teacher at MBHS.

He married Seruwaia who served as a Minister in Rabuka’s SVT government, at the same time as I was an NFP Member of Parliament between 1996 and 1999 when we brought in the consensus 1997 Constitution.

Francis Hong Tiy kept up his links with the Marist Brothers High School and contributed wherever he could as a distinguished Old Boy.

In 2010, Brother Fergus Garett gave me the great honor of being the Chief Guest to launch his wonderful book The Marist Brothers in Fiji: 1888 to 1988 (read my book review in The Fiji Times of 30 November 2010 or my article here

When I saw my old teacher Francis Hong Tiy sitting in the audience, together with my MBHS seniors the late Bill Yee (respected former Senator) and the late Bernard Vunibobo (respected former Minister of Finance and god-father to Francis’s son Bernard), it was with the greatest of respect that I felt obliged to invite them to do the honors of launching Brother Fergus’s book, which they kindly did (see photo).

[At the Book Launching. Standing: Rodney Yee (MC). Seated: Brother Fergus Garrett, the late Francis Hong Tiy, Wadan Narsey, the late Bill Yee, Brother X, the late Bernard Vunibobo.]

May the legacy of Francis Hong Tiy, a decent citizen of Fiji, live on.


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