Olivier Cox, the founder and long-time principal of the Metropolitan High School, was remembered Wednesday morning as an “insightful educator who was well ahead of his time”, and a “humble gentleman who achieved in one lifetime what many of us could not do in three lifetimes”.
Friends, relatives and former students gathered at the Belmont Methodist Church to pay their final respects to the 88-year-old educator who provided tutoring for many working class and immigrant families.
In his eulogy, C. Ernest Marshall noted that Cox did not want to become a teacher in his younger days. “He was educated at the Seventh Day Adventist School, where he was a serious student, and initially he wanted to become a doctor, but since his parents could not afford that, he became a “druggist” instead,” he said.
“He worked as an apprentice in that field for a while at Noel Roach and Sons in Speightstown, but then he was asked to fill in for a teacher who had gone on leave at the Seventh Day Adventist School, and after that experience, he recognized that teaching was his calling, and eventually went onto the Modern and Federal High Schools.”
President of the Metropolitan High School Alumni Association, Janlyn Skeete, recalled a versatile teacher and polymath, saying: “Mr Cox once said that he took his first teaching job not knowing whether he could teach, but in our experience, he could teach, he taught well, and he could teach any subject from Mathematics to Latin.”
Students also remembered him as a strict disciplinarian. “If you thought you had a free period because your teacher was absent, you were wrong,” Marshall said. “He would come in with his trusted sidekick, Joe Starving, a non-paid member of staff made of leather who ensured discipline was maintained. Also, above his office door, he had two bulbs, one green, the other red; the first indoor traffic lights in Barbados, which he operated from a plug on his desk. There are some police station sergeants who still tremble at the memory of waiting for that light to switch from red to green, because when it turned green it meant he was ready to see you and deal with you accordingly.”
Marshall also recalled that after the La Soufriere volcanic eruption in St. Vincent in 1979, Cox invited a number of Vincentian students to attend the Metropolitan.
Another former student remembered: “When I reached Upper Fifth and my parents could not afford the fees, he allowed me to attend school free of charge.”
Metropolitan became the school of choice for CARICOM immigrant families with students from Guyana, St. Lucia and Dominica among others. Cox offered scholarships and bursaries to students during his initial interviews with students if he saw their potential but recognised that their parents could not afford tuition.
In her homily, Reverend Dr Marcelle Brathwaite said: “Were it not for the COVID-19 restrictions, this church would have been unable to hold the amount of people that would have come out to pay tribute to Mr Cox. He truly lived by the belief that we cannot succeed unless we take someone else’s hands and bring them along. He did not just open a school, but he gave his students a level of education and care that ensured they would be great in life and could survive under any circumstances.”
She also remembered his contribution to the church as a 25-year member, particularly when it came to church music.
Rev. Dr Brathwaite recalled: “He was instrumental in organising recitals at Christmas and on Good Friday, which eventually became annual events that served as fund-raisers. He taught himself to play the organ and when he realised his technique was incorrect, he sought the services of two prominent organists, namely Gerald Hudson and John Fletcher, to develop his skill.
“He eventually played the organ at churches all over Barbados, and was always willing to fill in at the last minute if the resident organist at a church he was attending was late or absent.”
The school’s alumni association pledged to continue its work to ensure his memory and legacy are honoured.
Cox was interred at the Westbury Cemetery.