Ian and Dorothy Robinson Chapel, King’s College, Budo (April 1996)

Exactly fifty years ago today, I entered King’s College, Budo, to begin a secondary school education that would become the defining experience of my life. After a daylong Kabale-Kampala bus ride, followed by a taxi-ride back to the Budo junction on the Kampala-Masaka highway, I walked the four kilometre journey to the school that my father had chosen for me. My preference had been Kigezi College, Butobere or Ntare School, but that was a time when kids had no say in such things. It was parental dictatorship that I would treasure for the rest of my life.

Dusty, sweaty and tired, still with my suitcase on my head and a thin mat under my armpit, I must have been quite a sight when Ms. Barbara Collins, the school secretary, welcomed me into her tiny office. I doubt that either of us understood what the other said, yet we somehow managed to agree that I would follow her to Ghana House, the dormitory that would be my home for the next five years. (I have previously written an account of my first trip to Budo.)

It did not take long before I settled into the Budo routine. However, my mother’s parting words at the Kabale bus park kept replaying in my mind. “Do not waste your father’s money” she had told me. Simple words, but a weighty expectation that felt unattainable. After all, I had heard that Budo took the very brightest kids. Would I survive the rigours of learning alongside my gifted new classmates? I recall a feeling of apprehension that hovered between joy and fear, freedom and entrapment, a new beginning and terrifying paralysis.

However, within days I discovered that my classmates were normal people. Very bright yes, but fun-loving normal folk that created an extremely pleasant environment in which to live and study. Many became my informal teachers, freely sharing their knowledge and interests. Over the next five years, I developed an enduring fondness and deep respect for the Group of ’67. My lived experience expunged the myth that Budo was an ultraconservative school with stuffy attitudes. The multiethnic, co-educational representation offered a milieu that exposed me to different cultures, and an early appreciation of the shared nature of our humanity.

Fifty years later, I still hold the view that this group of students, along with our outstanding and exceptionally dedicated teachers, all under the stewardship of Ian Cameron Robinson, represent what is good about humanity.

It is impossible for me to think about Budo without thinking of Mr. Robinson. That he was a very fine gentleman and great administrator is widely acknowledged. That he steered the school through some of its most challenging times during his 13 years at the helm is well documented, especially in Gordon P. McGregor’s excellent account of Budo’s first 100 years. That he showed exceptional personal kindness to me and gave me “second chances” where others might have given up on me is something that induces the most tender feelings of immense gratitude.

However, it is the story of the school’s second chapel that defines what I admire most about the Budo that Mr. Robinson shaped. I did not know it during my days at the school, but the story of the Budo Chapel would later become one of my most favoured ones concerning that great school.

The first chapel, completed in 1912 under the direction of Rev. H. W. Weatherhead, the founding headmaster, had ceased to be used for the purpose in 1959. A new chapel was needed and fundraising for it began in 1961, with a target cost of £12,000. With generous donations by Budo students, staff and the British Diocese of Bath and Wells, along with two anonymous donors who gave more than £6,000, the new chapel, seating 600 worshippers, was consecrated in 1964.

McGregor reports: “It was not until 2002, while I was researching this history, that my friend and former colleague Bryan Wilson, who was treasurer of the Chapel Fund, confided that the two anonymous donors had in fact been Ian and Do(rothy) Robinson. Unlike some earlier Budo benefactors, they had no private sources of income, yet gave more than half of the cost of the new chapel.”

The Robinsons’ anonymous generosity, both in cash and spirit, inspire us even more than his overall excellent leadership of Budo. One basks with uninhibited gratitude under the sunny memory of this outstanding couple and similarly generous teachers, such as Colin M. Davis who quietly invested personal money in the education of needy students. While Budonians erroneously thought him a miser because of his modest lifestyle, Mr. Davis was funding the education of refugee students, including one who went on to have a distinguished career in medicine. He also created a pension fund for his house worker’s family, sustaining his deposits into it until he left Budo in 1977.

Budo’s student population now exceeds 1,000. An extension to the Ian and Dorothy Robinson Chapel (for that is what my friends and I call it) is something that Mr. Robinson’s students should seriously consider funding. Emulating the Robinsons would be a fitting honour to that great couple and all of Budo’s teachers whose generosity contributed to the growth of the school throughout its first century. A Chapel, with capacity for 2,000 worshippers, would serve the school throughout its second century.

Meanwhile, one hopes that the school’s Board of Governors will consider naming the Chapel in memory of Ian and Dorothy Robinson, not only in recognition of their remarkable generosity but of their lives that were a living testimony and example of Christ at work. The Ian and Dorothy Robinson Chapel symbolizes what was, and remains good about one of the greatest schools in Africa. I am honoured to have been confirmed into the Anglican Communion by Bishop Dunstan Nsubuga of Namirembe in that very chapel in late 1967.

The lessons learnt in the classrooms and laboratories of Budo are, for the most part, deleted from my memory. The games learnt and played have been sabotaged by the ravages of time and age. However, the impact of the hymns, prayers and sermons in the school chapel endures.

 

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