In the ninth edition of Conversations with Old Boys we chat to Professor Perry Kaye, the first ever Head Boy of Westville High School. Perry matriculated in 1959 as a member of the first matriculating class. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Chemico- and Biomedicinal Research at Rhodes University. Perry recently visited Westville Boys’ High School for a joint reunion of the Classes of 1959 and 1960.
“The progress at Westville has been remarkable. I am particularly impressed by the staff and learner leadership structures, the boys’ academic and sporting achievements and the emphases placed on mutual responsibility and discipline.”
Biography of Perry Kaye in Brief
Head of the Department of Chemistry (1992-2007), Rhodes University; Director, Rhodes Centre for Chemico- and Biomedicinal Research (2005-present)
AECI Medal of the South African Chemical Institute, 1996
Vice-Chancellor’s Senior Distinguished Research Award/Medal, Rhodes University, 2001
Gold Medal of the South African Chemical Institute, 2007
Who was your favourite teacher at Westville High School?
Mr (later Dr) George Harrison. He was a remarkably gifted, considerate and enthusiastic teacher who commanded respect and instilled a deep appreciation of language and human values – someone who helped to shape my own approach as a lecturer.
Was there a defining moment or life lesson learnt while you were at Westville High School that you have taken with you through the rest of your life?
Perhaps, as Head Boy, a recognition of the responsibilities of leadership.
Do you have a memorable moment on the sports field while at school that you would like to share with us?
As I recall, 1959 was the first year in which Westville fielded a 1st XV Rugby team, and we normally expected to play against the 3rd teams of the big schools. We were due to play Kearsney College 3rd XV at Kearsney when our coach, Mr Robin Blamey, told us that if we beat them convincingly, he would arrange a game against Kearsney 2nd XV and, if we beat them, a game against Kearsney 1st XV. In the event, following our win over Kearsney 3rd XV, he skipped the 2nd XV and immediately arranged a match against Kearsney 1st XV to be played on the new, then unnamed, Bowden’s field. It was a Wednesday afternoon and I remember thinking, as we crouched down for an early scrum, that we had never played at that pace before and the prospects of survival seemed slim. When the final whistle blew, the score was 15-3 – in our favour! After all these years, the sense of elation remains.
What are your impressions of Westville Boys' High School today?
Our recent visit to the school was certainly an eye-opener. The progress at Westville has been remarkable. I am particularly impressed by the staff and learner leadership structures, the boys’ academic and sporting achievements and the emphases placed on mutual responsibility and discipline.
What advice would you give to a primary school boy considering his high school options on why he should attend WBHS?
To give serious consideration to the numerous opportunities for individual, academic and sports development, the school’s track record of excellence and the values it embraces.
What has been the highlight of your academic career thus far?
I find it difficult to differentiate between three highlights reflecting different phases of my career: - a doctorate from Oxford University in 1979; appointment as Professor of Organic Chemistry at Rhodes University in 1987; and award of the Gold Medal of the South African Chemical Institute in 2007.
“As an academic, you will need to be sufficiently qualified to realise how little you know but, simultaneously, how much you want to know about the subjects which really fascinate you.”
What advice would you give to a young person considering an academic career?
It is important (and a privilege!) to enjoy what we do. I remember Mr Hector Commons, who was our Maths Teacher and who handled the career guidance portfolio, saying that we enjoy what we do well. A school curriculum, however, may not have exposed you to aspects of a particular discipline that you might later find fascinating, and I suspect that few students actually begin tertiary studies with the intention of becoming academics. As an academic, you will need to be sufficiently qualified to realise how little you know but, simultaneously, how much you want to know about the subjects which really fascinate you. In addition to appropriate training, important individual characteristics will surely include: - an open and enquiring mind; intellectual integrity; effective oral and written communication skills; self-discipline; and perseverance – things are seldom as simple as they look!
In your field of science, what is the greatest challenge that you are working on?
Our research group interests are broad, and current challenges include the development of novel compounds as potential anti-malarial or anti-HIV agents, as well as the use of experimental and theoretical methods to explore “molecular space” – the multi-dimensional energy surfaces which determine reaction pathways.
Conversations with Old Boys is a project of the Westville Boy’s High School Foundation, in partnership with the Westville Boys’ High School Old Boys’ Association