One of the reasons I enjoyed my high school years at King’s College, Budo, Uganda was the very high quality of teaching, supervision and nurturing we received from our teachers.
One of the teachers that I held in very high esteem was Mr Neil Bonnell, a tall Australian gentleman who taught us English, cricket and lawn tennis.
Gifted with a great sense of humour, Mr Bonnell made learning a fun experience. Where some teachers chose to ridicule a student that fumbled an answer to a question, Mr Bonnell would ease you out of the situation without breaking your spirit.
Born on May 2, 1935 in Salamaua, New Guinea (now Papua New Guinea), Neil was educated at Trinity Grammar School, New South Wales, Australia and Sydney University where he graduated in 1956 as a B.A. with Honours in English and a Diploma in Education.
He taught English and History in New South Wales for five years before moving to the United Kingdom where he taught English at Bury Grammar School in Lancashire.
Neil and his wife Beverly arrived at King’s College, Budo in 1965. In addition to serving as Head of English, he was Housemaster of Australia House and Chairman of the Uganda Schools Cricket Association. He stayed until the end of 1971, and then returned to his homeland to continue teaching.
He was awarded a Master of Arts with Honours in 1975 and Master of Education with Merit in 1985.
He taught at his alma mater, Trinity Grammar School in New South Wales, for twelve years, including eight as Deputy Headmaster. He was then appointed Principal of The Scots PGC College, Warwick, Queensland in 1984. He led this school for ten years. Among his imprints on the school, whose two constituent colleges (the Presbyterian Girl’s College and the Scots College for boys) dated back to 1917 and 1918, was the College Council’s adoption in 1995 of a new school badge that Neil had designed.
Neil, who also served as Deputy Chancellor, University of Southern Queensland from 1993 to 1994, spent the following two years in China where he was Head of English at Beijing INTI Management College.
In his early years, Neil served with the Citizen Military Forces of Australia (1953-62), reaching the rank of Captain. He also served in the Australian Army Cadet Corps (1958-62) and was a Commissioned officer on the General List (CCF) of the British Army (1963-65).
He has enjoyed a very active retirement, including sharing knowledge and skills with people in his community of Warwick, south west of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.
He was the Founding President of the Warwick Bridge Club. (Contract Bridge is an internationally popular card game that makes playing Matatu look like a toddlers’ effort.)
Neil and Beverly are avid Bridge players. Beverley, who started playing Bridge at King’s College, Budo, became a Grandmaster of the game in 2014. Neil has served as Bridge tournament director and continues to teach the game to younger players.
He is the current President of the University of the Third Age Warwick Inc. He has edited Mosaic of Memories, a collection of memories of James Wilson Hogg – a highly regarded and longest serving Headmaster of Trinity Grammar School.
Neil has also written The Rose Garden Used To Be Here – memories of his schooldays as a boarder, and 25 Years of Finesse- a history of the Warwick Bridge Club. These books have been privately published.
In addition to playing Bridge, Neil remains very active on the tennis courts. In a recent e-mail to me, Neil wrote: “I still manage to play tennis twice a week at a fair standard.”
One of his great memories of Uganda is the time that he took Erinasi Tumwesigye as a doubles partner in the Uganda Handicap Doubles tennis tournament. “We received an impossibly generous handicap,” Neil wrote. “Our opponents had to win seven points for a game and we only had to win two. It wasn’t surprising that we won. I was very pleased that Tumwesigye had a trophy from a national tournament to take home to Kigezi.”
Neil added: “Our whole family look back on our six years at Budo with great affection. In fact, it took our daughter some time to adjust to life in Australia. Once when she found herself in trouble she said, ‘I want to go back to my own country.’ Our sons claimed that they found Australia boring after life in Uganda. ‘Where are the roadblocks?’ they asked.”
Neil and Beverly Bonnell were among Budonians who flew to Uganda to attend the school’s centenary celebrations in 2006. He received the Budo Order of Merit, presented to him by His Majesty Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.
It was a proud moment for him and for us who had benefitted from his great intellect and teaching skills, his sense of humour and a very easy-going nature that repeatedly gave his naughty charges endless “second chances.”
Neil Bonnell is my kind of teacher, my kind of person.