“Simplicity signifies the magnanimity of the soul.”
Students of St Lawrence Schools and Colleges actually had no idea of where these words came from and, sadly, even a Google search doesn’t seem to bring results. The few results Google gives as far as the phrase is concerned are those of people that have used it on social media.
That phrase was, however, common in St Lawrence Schools and Colleges, made famous by Prof Lawrence Mukiibi. It emphasized the importance of being simple and grounded. Mukiibi often noted that you will never apologize for being simple. This was the story of his life; simple yet hard at the same time.
For instance, on a daily basis, he attended an assembly in at least one of the then five schools – it was never clear how his schedule was but he would somehow show up in time for the assemblies whenever they were meant to happen.
On days when he didn’t have an assembly, he would still show up either before proceeding to another campus for the assembly or after, mostly later in the day. And his trips around the school had zero limits; he would go from standing at a dark spot near a window to watch you make noise in night prep to checking out the kitchen section as they prepared meals.
Legend has it that this was his way of keeping himself updated about things happening in the schools and to the students. It’s hard to know if that’s how he used to discover people’s abilities even before they discovered themselves, but of course, that was how he was also discovering leaders and talent, especially with the assemblies that were always punctuated with a performance.
Presently made up of eight school campuses, St Lawrence Schools and Colleges were established in 1993. The first campus, Kabaka’s Lake, started with only six students. However, even when the numbers grew and people imagined he and the schools were making lots of money, Mukiibi’s simplicity wasn’t faltered.
STRICT BUT SMART
Mukiibi mostly wore simple suits and, during celebrations, it was mostly matching the colours of Kabaka’s lake and Creamland campus uniforms – cream trousers, short-sleeved white shirt and a maroon blazer and tie – the joke was that he ordered for the suits at the same place where he ordered for the uniforms.
This simplicity was even seen with the choice of cars, mostly simple Toyotas – they were easily overshadowed on visitation Sundays, totally sandwiched among monster cars that belonged to parents. It wasn’t surprising that the rumors about the schools not being his surfaced, and the students would also be party to them, but that was just his life.
He wanted to be simple, smart and orderly. But he took the smartness very seriously. For instance, he was always interested in ensuring that people put on their white stockings and had a white handkerchief on them – the inspections that were mostly random used to take place during assemblies.
He argued that white wasn’t the benchmark of cleanliness, but the commitment to keep them clean every day. In fact, there are many occasions he pardoned people that many believed were meant to be expelled, but then there were many more occasions that people got expelled for having sagging pants, being untidy, trespassing…
Outside the orderliness, there are more inspections he did carry out, though; he would ask students never to postpone issues in life.
‘Procrastination is a thief of time,’ he would say. At times, he would check books to see if students had written the statement on the first page of all their books or files.
But besides being strict on orderliness, he enjoyed being pampered in a way; he got himself a pampered kind of name for every campus. Those in London College called him Papa, while in other campuses he was Professor and Daddy, among others titles.
While the school’s fancy buildings were criticized by outsiders, Mukiibi often made the students feel lucky that they were not in other schools whose setups he usually referred to as ‘traditional’, teaching them to love and be proud of being a St Lawrence product.
Of course he did this by ensuring we kept the school as clean as ourselves; the walkways, usually tarmac or cement, had to be cleaned by the students on a daily basis – of course this totally defeated the common myth that students at St Lawrence did nothing besides being pampered.
On Sunday May 28, news broke that Mukiibi had passed on at Norvik hospital where he had been admitted after slipping in his home bathroom. This was less than a year after he was involved in an accident along Masaka road last year.
Many Ugandans who went through Mukiibi’s schools have mourned his passing and going on to credit him for making them who they are. Brian ‘Mckenzie’ Sabiiti of Radio City said Mukiibi encouraged him to try out many things because he saw a leader in him.
The post, accompanied by a picture of the radio personality receiving a certificate in his school days, detailed how he benefited from the deceased educationist.
“Personally, I don’t think I would be who I am today if it wasn’t for St Lawrence,” he said.
Others have talked of Mukiibi as a teacher that allowed them to dare untraditional careers like music, fashion design and the showbiz business altogether. For instance, back in 2008, the music group Smash and Ceaserous was initially discovered from one of the school stages.
In a statement released yesterday, the minister of Education and Sports, Janet Museveni, said Mukiibi had made “strides towards advancing education standards of this country through various secondary schools which he started, and the university, all of which have been pivotal in changing the image of educational standards for the country and the East African region as a whole.”
Ms Museveni said Mukiibi played a key role, as a member of the executive committee of private schools, in mobilizing private schools to participate in government educational programmes. She added that this holiday, Mukiibi allowed the minister to use one of his schools to host head teachers of schools for a week from across the country at no cost.
“We will also remember, with gratitude, his contribution to the development and good management of private schools in the country,” she said. “The sector shall remain grateful to Prof Mukiibi for this contribution.”
By the time of his death, Mukiibi had added a primary school and secondary school for low-income parents, it’s said that this was his way of giving back to the community; this was on top of over 200 orphans he was taking care of.
In many of the different interviews he had with the media, he had talked about death as a normal event in life and had demanded that if it happens to him, he wanted people to wear white as a sign of celebration.
Mukiibi will be buried on Friday and the dress code at his burial, according to his will, should be white and cream.