James Ward – first headteacher at St Columba’s High School, Perth

james-wardMr James Ward, first headmaster of St Columba’s Secondary in Perth, died recently at the age of 93. His Requiem Mass was concelebrated by Father Ken McCaffrey, parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Canon Ken McBride, Father Tony McCarthy and Father Eugene O’Sullivan. Canon Basil O’Sullivan was present at the Reception of Remains.

Paying tribute to him, Father McCaffrey said, “He lived his life according to the Sermon on the Mount. He always had his sights raised to the horizon; he lived according to a great vision that was always beyond his reach but for which he was always striving. He saw the Commandments not as minimal rules to make sure of keeping on th e straight and narrow, but as signposts to an ever more exciting life.

He lived also as a member of the Church. He treasured his life in the Church and was closely and intimately part of everything that went on in the Church. He suffered when the Church suffered, and was deeply glad when the Church rejoiced. And like a true servant of the Church he gave his life in service of others, principally in the field of Catholic Education.

Today we tell the story of his life and that story began when James Joseph Ward was born in Clydebank on Easter Sunday 1913, a fact that allowed him throughout his long life to celebrate his birthday twice a year, on the actual date [23 March] and, as he preferred, on Easter Sunday – a fitting practice for a convivial man. Not until 2008 will the two dates again coincide.

While at secondary school, St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, he displayed a characteristic combination of prudence and daring when he saved his money for some weeks to buy a bicycle from a classmate, without ever having learned to ride one – but having picked a suitably secluded spot for his first attempt, he managed to master it before he got home. (Though he did not say exactly when he got home). He went from school to Glasgow University at the tender age of 16 – “much too young” as he later observed – where he studied English and History. On graduating he trained as a teacher at Jordanhill and began his teaching career at his old school, St Patrick’s, Dumbarton. In 1936 he had the most momentous meeting of his life, on the Dublin Boat – with Joyce Goulding, who was to become his wife.

When the war intervened, he was called up and served in the Royal Navy, first in the destroyer HMS Bulldog and then in Naval Intelligence.

It was while the war was still at its height, in April 1942, that he married Joyce. When the war was done, he resumed teaching, now at St Ninian’s Kirkintilloch and then at Our Holy Redeemer’s, Clydebank, where he was Principal Teacher of English and the father of a young and growing family. It was in 1958 that he took the decision that brought him, Joyce and his five children out of the “delectable West” – as he liked to call it – and here to Perth: he was appointed headmaster of what was then St John’s Junior Secondary and Primary School.

He worked hard for a new comprehensive school for the Catholic Community of Perth and he became the first rector of St Columba’s High School in 1967. How many people’s lives he touched from his coming to Perth until his retirement in 1977 is difficult to gauge. But there is no doubt that Jimmy Ward had a great influence on so many young people of this town and beyond. St Columba’s High School and its many achievements is testimony to his vision that young people deserve the best and should be helped in every way possible to ‘Seek the Good’.

His affection for his pupils was such that Joyce remarked that when he used the expression “the children” it was not always clear whether he was referring to his own or the pupils of the school. Indeed, pleasure in the company of the young was something that continued into his retirement and his new career as a grandfather.

It is not given to many to enjoy a retirement as long and rich as his was, and throughout it he retained a great exuberance and zest for life, regularly keeping up with what was happening in St Columba’s, delighting in company, and never afraid to take on new challenges.

He was a man who honoured tradition, but never a stick-in-the-mud, and in some things was surprisingly radical – as for instance what age his children should start driving on the public roads.

In his eighties, he followed Joyce’s example in becoming adept in using e-mail and the internet and it was actually on his ninetieth birthday that he declared his intention to switch to broadband “because he was fed up missing people’s phone calls” – and there and then phoned up to arrange it.

At the same age he was still taking an active part with his children and grandchildren in the ritual game of football on Easter Day. Football was another thing that kept his interest to the last, in particular the fortunes of the team he had followed since a boy, through good times and bad.

He was ever a ready man with a quotation: “Each man in his time plays many parts”- James Joseph Ward was Jimmy to his friends, Mr Ward to his pupils, Uncle Jimmy to the McCarthy clan in the West, Pad to his children, Grandpa or Pop to his grandchildren and great grandchildren; but in every guise he is rightly remembered with great affection and love. He surely now deserves the crown of righteousness.”