13 December 2017 – Accounting teacher Petro de Villiers retired at the end of the 2017 school year, having taught at Saint Andrew’s since 1997. During her time at the school, she made a very positive difference as an excellent teacher and overseer of the Senior Interact Club.
Rewind almost a quarter-of-a-century and Petro had been teaching at Sand du Plessis, where her husband was Headmaster, for six years before stepping away to take on the role of stay-at-home mother to her children. In the mid-nineties, however, she was approached to help out at Navalsig, which was doubling in size, for a year.
Petro de Villiers – Saint Andrew's 1997-2017
Then, a phone call changed the direction of her life once more as she was again preparing to return to home after her stint at Navalsig. "At the start of the fourth term of 1996, [former Saint Andrew’s Headmaster] Mr Gordon called me and offered me the post at Saint Andrew's," she recalled. "In the end, I thought I would do it for maybe a couple of years and it became 21 years!"
Although Sand du Plessis was an Afrikaans school, Petro was well-prepared to teach in an English school. In the 1970s, she had taught at Grey College, which was dual-medium, while Navalsig was more English than Afrikaans speaking.
The big difference, though, was returning to teaching at an only-boys’ school and, Petro admitted, that is something she enjoyed: "That was lovely. I prefer teaching boys because they don't throw tantrums and are much less complicated. They don't sulk. We sort stuff out and then it is done and we move on."
What was supposed to have lasted only a few years became over two decades of service to Saints. Explaining it simply, Petro said: "It just happened [that I stayed on a long time]. They're my kids. They would say to me 'Ma'am, just take us through to matric'. That's what happened."
While teaching at Saint Andrew’s, she developed lasting relationships with many of the boys she taught and, said Petro, there was something out of the ordinary about the school. She explained: "Saints' boys are different. They all come back, with things like Old Boys' weekends, or, for instance, they would call me from the airport in Cape Town. They say 'Ma'am, we're on our way, can we go for lunch at Mugg and Bean quickly?'
"Everybody knows to just come and report back and we see how we're doing. They keep in touch, so I think they're different.
"That is what made teaching worthwhile to me."
Petro’s success can also be measured by the number of her past pupils who go on to successful careers involving accounting. "Just the other day, I received WhatApps from three of them, who have passed CTA. That's Honours for accounting," she smiled.
Service to others
Service to others is very close to Petro’s heart and she expressed that through her work with the Saint Andrew’s Senior Interact Club. She shared how her contribution to the Club began: "Mr Gordon started Interact at the school, and when I started here he involved me. He asked me not to take over, but to work with him. We worked together and he attended all the meetings. In the end he had too much else to do and then it was my baby."
There are very important lessons about life to be learnt by assisting others, she stated: "That's important to me, to teach boys, for example, that, if you've got the money, it is easy to say I will support you with R2 000 or R10 000 and then I turn my back on you and walk away. I haven't sacrificed anything because I have enough money anyway.
"To sacrifice their time, that is what is important, like playing soccer at Lettie Fouche with the Downs Syndrome children, to take orphans to the zoo, or to the movies, or to visit the elderly at the Old Age home and talk to them, sing songs for them. That is important to me."
"I am going to miss the school"
The change from teaching to retirement is going to take some getting used to, Petro reckoned: "I am going to miss the school. It was part of my life for 21 years. That was my second life. It was life at home and life at school, and then you take school home as well, because you do school work at home.
"I am going to miss the staff room, and I will miss the boys. I like working with young people, although the older ones are easier for me. It's less complicated."
The inevitable transformation of her life struck her recently ahead of the staff’s end of year lunch at the Saints Club. She remembered when it happened: "When I walked across the Hickling Field to the Lindsay Tuckett High Performance Centre to go and practice bowls [for the staff bowls challenge], I walked back on my own. Then, I thought, these are the last steps at our school and of my class. It is actually traumatic. For anybody to retire, it must be traumatic."
There is one thing, though, that Petro confessed she won’t miss: "I won't miss marking!"
Looking ahead, she has not set any specific plans for the future yet: "I must get home first and find myself again. Remember, it is a totally new life. It is like a relationship that did not work out and then you jump into the next one, from the one straight to the other one. That doesn't work."
One thing that she is looking forward to is spending more time with her grandchildren who live in the United Kingdom.
"I like being a grandmother. It comes after being a mom and it is a continuation. You don't stop being a mom. Kids should always look forward to seeing Granny and Grandpa."
In the same way, many Saints’ boys she taught will continue to look forward to seeing Petro de Villiers in her retirement. They respect her as a caring, compassionate teacher, who made a meaningful difference in their lives, as an example of what makes Saint Andrew’s a special place.
For your outstanding servce, We thank you, Petro.