Dr. Neves F. Pereira : An Icon In Our Time 

By Raymond De Mello

Though we mourn the passing of a distinguished Goan success story, we also celebrate and acknowledge his outstanding life achievements. From challenging beginnings, Neves (if I may be permitted to address him thus), like the fabled phoenix, rose from the ashes of his disadvantaged youth, and through sheer dint of hard work and diligence, rose to prominence in East Africa and in this great country, Canada, that he chose as his final home for his family and himself.

After obtaining his first Science degree in India, he proceeded to England and secured a B.Sc. in Physics.  At the age of 44 he graduated with a Doctorate in Physics through the University of Toronto.  Going back in time, his career path has been very impressive indeed.  He taught at the Goan School in Mombasa, rising to the position of Vice-Principal. In 1962 he accepted the position of Headmaster at the Dr. Ribeiro Goan School in Nairobi, and the rest is history!

For me personally, Neves was a formidable role model, and I count myself amongst the lucky ones who benefited from his stewardship as head of the Dr. Ribeiro Goan School.  Some historical perspective would perhaps be helpful in order to grasp the full scope of his significant contributions to education, personal development and music.

When Rev. Fr. Frank Commerford was the Principal of the Goan School, the institution was clearly destined for great moments, but his premature departure shattered that dream, and indeed the hearts of all the students. There then followed what, in my view, was a protracted and disquieting interregnum period.  This steady decline of the school was dramatically slowed down in 1962, and a gradual reversal of fortunes followed.

It would be fair to say that Neves' move to Nairobi was not without controversy.  The Mombasa Goan community seemingly ( and understandably ) did not want to part with their 'Golden Boy' and were consequently convulsed in animated debate about the whole question.  Eventually, compromise and the greater good of the Goan Community took precedence, and Neves was installed as the Principal of the Goan School in Nairobi..

As a natural leader and authoritative figure, Neves was a perfect fit for his new position.  He had an excellent rapport with his staff, and was very well respected by students and parents alike. He was a keen educationist and disciplinarian, and focused on ensuring that we, as students, received a well rounded education.  To this end he encouraged involvement in sports and various extra curricular activities.  Outside of simply academia, he was determined that we all developed comprehensively, and to our full potential.  His vision, therefore, saw the creation of various hobby clubs, a brass band and a refreshing approach to education in general.  The brass band needs special mention since it was his ‘pet´ project.  Having formed a very successful brass band in Mombasa, I would suggest that forming one in Nairobi was almost his 'raison d´etre', next to education of course.  Working closely, and with almost military precision, with dedicated male and female students, he patiently and painstakingly taught them individually to play the brass instrument of their choice.  When it all came together, it was simply an amazing finished product.  Most notably the band´s rendition of the Kenya National Anthem was next to none!

School started with the morning assembly at the back of the school.  Neves, resplendent in his suit and tie peeking through his graduation gown, led the school in prayer, followed by the singing of a hymn.  To ensure full participation, all the students were required to have their little hymnals with them. On occasion though, he would stray from the hymnal and engage in an impromptu teaching of a new hymn.  'Abide with me' and 'The Lord is my shepherd' come to mind.  His ability to communicate music in words or melody was positively phenomenal.

Neves was a strong disciplinarian.  He had a very low tolerance for impertinence or disobedience, just as we are with our own children.  He did however temper his brand of discipline with reason and understanding.  He was quite prepared to listen to an explanation about an infraction, and alter the level of punishment meted out, depending on how convincing one was able to be!  Conversely however, a student who brazenly crossed the line would usually suffer dire consequences.  Unquestionably, he always tried to be the reasonable person, and certainly believed that everyone deserved a second chance.  God knows he gave me several, for which I will always be grateful.

Attending school was by no means a daunting prospect because Neves had created an atmosphere of fun, without anyone losing sight of the need to be fully engaged academically.  We experienced many creative and enjoyable activities, not least of all being a visit by the Mombasa Goan School in early '65.  It was quite magical because we took them into our homes for a week, and the entire visit was punctuated with a feeling of warmth and affection, as we came to know a little more about our extended Mombasa family.  There were parties, concerts and much merriment...and new friendships were forged!

As a progressive individual, Neves understood the complexities of an adult coeducational school.  He obviously realized that inevitably, male-female contact would likely, in some instances, lead to romantic relationships.  It was my perception that he was not prepared to be puritanical in this regard; in return he fully expected that students would come to school and use it as a place of study, interspersed with healthy interactions.  His strategy worked.  In time the Dr. Ribeiro Goan School was firmly entrenched on the East African map.  Our brass band won wide acclaim, the sports teams excelled at inter-school meets, academically the school soared with the best of them, the name Neves Pereira became synonymous with leadership, sophistication and charisma, and we were proud to mention the name of our school, with the emphasis on 'Goan'.

In 1965 Neves and his family came to Canada where he continued to be very successful.  At the time of his retirement he was the Director of the educational arm of the Ontario Science Center.

Inevitably, his passing has deprived us of a wonderful and compassionate human being.  As his beautiful, elegant and beloved wife Urmilla takes fledgling steps in her changed circumstance, there will be solace in all the cherished memories, of which there must be many.  Her loving, devoted and handsome sons Neville, Jon and Suresh will always be around to shower their gorgeous Mum with love and emotional support, all the while doting on her.

Neves leaves behind a brilliant legacy that will surely endure.  His accomplishments are a matter of record, and it is to be hoped that present and future generations within the community will attempt in some measure to fill his shoes and replicate his life and career of distinction.

May his soul rest in peace

Other Obituaries: