The following article was published by The Guardian on May 20th, 2012.
We said farewell to Gerry German last week, in a cavernous church with extra chairs laid out, but still standing room only. Alex Pascall, the writer, broadcaster and Caribbean sage, scanned the congregation. “Yes, the rebels are here,” he said.
And that was fitting because Gerry, in his way, was the rebels’ rebel. He was 84 when he died, but to the end he was ready for a scrap, eager to put his foot down on a point of principle. “He died with his boots on,” former teaching colleague Norman Girvan said.
I wrote here about Gerry and the Communities Empowerment Network (CEN) two years ago. I liked the idea that when students – often male, often minorities, usually black – found themselves excluded from school, a short, balding, white Welshman, who never lost the lilt and never lost his sense of humour, was the man they turned to. He couldn’t save them all – CEN sees 1,000 cases a year – but he’d see they weren’t steamrollered.
He embodied this column, for equality and diversity were the most natural things in the world to him. They were drivers for all of his work, whether teaching at Knox College in mid-Jamaica or as head at the prestigious Mandeville College in the south-west of the island.
Or as head teacher in Mold, the old market town in North Wales. Or as principal education officer at the Commission for Racial Equality. And during his time working in Nigeria. He was endlessly empathetic, recalled a colleague.
One minute he might be singing in Welsh, or adjusting his cadence to accommodate Nigerian dialect, or speaking Jamaican patois at machine gun speed. Always warm but serious in intent. “Let us take the fight for social justice in education to the barricades,” was his favoured phrase.
We said farewell, as Gerry would have wanted. With a congregation, mixed in age and race, singing How Great Thou Art, Cwm Rhondda and By the Rivers of Babylon. With Gus John, the Grenadian-born writer and academic who led the service, singing the Welsh national anthem. And with the coffin borne away to the sound of Equal Rights and Justice, the militant reggae anthem by Peter Tosh, of Bob Marley and the Wailers. Bizarre in some ways, but for Gerry, it seemed just right.