By Mathew K Jallow
Right out of the gate, I hit an unexpected snag. I encountered confusion from the gravitational pull on both sides; then full blown out decision paralysis set in, but it wasn’t for long. I realized the essence of balancing two comparably different protagonist forces; one preeminent; the other, distinguished. Confused? Hear me out. For a brief moment, it was difficult, if not impossible, to define what the event at St Augustine’s school was about. St. Augustine’s and George F Gomez, in so many ways, bear striking resemblance, both mythological, and both iconoclastic. So, when Diana Christensen began the book launch event, two things stood out from the loud chatter, St Augustine’s high, the institution, which was more than just its physical existence, and George F Gomez, whose remarkable journey is very much intertwined with the legacy of his alma mater, the historic institution, St Augustine’s school. Those involved in the book launch faced dilemma; to concentrate on the mythical George F Gomez, legendary footballer, or veer more sharply towards the iconic St Augustine’s, the theme of the event. It was a hard decision I faced too, but in the end, reminiscing about the school was more than just flattery; it added substance that made St Augustine’s school materially come alive again, if only in the mind. The book, ‘St Augustine’s School, its History and Accomplishments,’ by George F Gomez, is a historical narrative about a veritable cultural icon in our nation’s history. It is George F Gomez’s most recent addiction to Gambian literature and in it; he takes the reader on a journey back to the school’s founding more than a century ago in 1857, to its contemporary era molding minds and shaping the intellectual curiosity of so many young Gambians of every creed. The book is not Mr Gomez’s first foray into the literary world, but it is perhaps his most inspiring work. St. Augustine’s and George Gomez are inextricably linked by both history and the circumstance, and during the launch of his new work, the line-up of luminaries who participated in the book launch articulated as much laudatory acknowledgement of Saint Augustine’s school, as they did of author, George Gomez. Between Saint Augustine’s school and George Gomez, it is the story of the celebrated institution and one of its legacies, and at its core, it is an inseparable intertwining that tells the story of the past; the present and the future.
Throughout its long history, St Augustine school’s pivotal role in the Gambia’s history has been undeniable, and the praiseworthy roles that legacies like George F Gomez have played in the Gambian story and culture speaks to the school’s cogent role in contemporary Gambian history. St Augustine’s did much to shape the intellectual complexion of the nation, and more broadly, give character to its young people. As a prodigy of the school, George F Gomez embodies the best of the school’s norms and values; the character witness to an institution that has captivated Gambian minds and challenged a nation to live by the school’s progressive canon. Saint Augustine’s is more than just the four corners of a wall where students memorized Mark Anthony’s poetic allegories, as in the Shakespearian tales of Julius Caesar, nor is it a place where in head-spinning efforts, students try desperately to crack a Pythagoras theorem. Every former St Augustine’s has a memorable story, but stories of tortuous relations with teachers too. But, for the most part, experiences at Saint Augustine’s school are made for nostalgia. And, not to take anything away from Mr Gomez’s remarkable accomplishment telling an arresting story in a book, my own best memories harken back to a childhood friend; Michael Aziz. Aunty Ken did not create our friendship and bond, but she help grow it. The mission house where I lived was part of the church/school St Augustine’s complex, making it more personal to me. I called it my home, away from home. It was the place I ate, slept and served mass, which was an integral part of the morning routine. Perhaps nothing excited me more that the annual school picnics at the famous Cape Point Atlantic beachfront, and the legendary sports and athletic annual inter-collegiate sports competitions. Unlike most Saint’s students, I experienced another dimension of Saint Augustine’s school; living in close quarters with the Irish missionaries who operated the school complex. In his book, Mr Gomez narrated a memorable story, but the school is multi-dimensional in character; an encyclopedia of innumerable stories of everyone who ever walked through its classroom doors. Saint Augustine’s school was a magnet for young men pursuing higher education, but for one school; in particular, Saint Augustine’s was the ultimate prize. Armitage High school, two hundred miles away, in Georgetown, transferred more students to Saint Augustine’s than any other high school. If anything else, George Gomez’s book is a testament to an institution that has given so much, to so many.
St Augustine’s School, it’s History and Accomplishments, a George F Gomez labor of love, is an extraordinary historical narrative that captures the imagination of readers and throws them back in time to an era of epic sportsmanship and academic excellence, which cemented the school’s role as a center of learning in Gambia. The list of Gambian personalities that participated in the book launching at St Augustine’s gymnasium; was a short list of who is who in Gambian literary circles. The presence of an esteemed and revered legal mind, Henry Darlington Richmond Carrol (M.R.G.), former Chairman of The Gambia Law Reform Commission, and Senior Lecturer at the University of The Gambia, added substance to the launch event. Saint Augustine’s is emblematic of Gambian education; its rise to the pinnacle of educational excellence, and its predicament, is a challenge that ought to be confronted, with a view of restoring the school to it days of glory and reverential stature. George F Gomez is the ultimate representation of the very best of Saints; the old days of the institution that will never come back, but he is also the living monument of what is possible for a school so many still hold in awe and deference. The story of Saints as narrated by Mr Gomez, is a flashback to a different era, but there was no end to the guests list espousing the tremendous achievements of the man of the moment; George F Gomez; not the school, and with good reason; Principal Fr Bruno Toupan, Bishop of Banjul, Rt. Rev Robert Ellision and Peter Gomez. For, each in their own ways captured the very essence and fascination with the sports icon, George Gomez. Mr Gomez is the tremendously accomplished doyen of Gambian sports entertainment and messenger of Gambian sports to a world increasingly interconnected by collective global movement towards a world united by our common humanity. As a product of Saint Augustin’s, Mr George Gomez was more than just the school’s legacy; he was Gambia’s ambassador and show-horse to the sports world. The characterization of Mr Gomez as Gambia’s Pele is not meant as a prevarication; for he truly embodies the best of his generation and at his best in the days when sports were confined to regional geographic spreads, and his image was never plastered on billboards or flashed on television screens, but his display of sportsmanship will forever cast its long shadow in Gambian’s sports entertainment world. And, as his new book, St Augustine’s school; its history and Accomplishments,’ hits the vendors and book stores, it was inevitable that he has become the symbol of achievement of this great institution; St Augustine’s School.