Richard Brooks Duet Roper was born in 1926, a member of the plantocracy, in Labyrinth, St. Mary. He attended Jamaica College (JC), and had all the aggressiveness, swagger, temper, and colourful vocabulary one would ascribe to a young man. At JC, he was 2nd Lieutenant in cadets, plus captain of the choir, captain of the tennis, cricket, hockey, and rifle shooting teams, in addition to being head boy.
Straight from JC, he came to Munro College to teach biology from 1946 to 1947 as a Junior Master. He then went to McGill University in Canada, where he gained his BSc. and MSc. in Biology. It was at McGill that he became a Christian, and where he married his first wife, Joan.
He returned to Jamaica in 1951, and taught at Wolmer’s Boys School. Unfortunately his wife died suddenly. In 1952 he came back to Munro and taught Biology. He was the leading light in the Inter School’s Christian Fellowship, (ISCF), and was consistent in belief and practice. Gone was the youthful swagger and colourful vocabulary, if not the temper.
This integrity of character served him well when Head Master Basil Ward outlawed the infamous “gauntlet” in 1952. The gauntlet was a ‘delightful’ method by which you were welcomed into fifth form by running between fifth formers for five laps while being beaten by them. The fifth form boys moved the now illegal activity to the showers. Mr Corbett, who was on duty, knew it had happened but had no idea where, and after not getting an answer from two boys that he confronted, he slapped them. This sent the entire upper school on strike, marching around the barbecue, and shouting “we want justice!” Mr. Ward failed to get the boys to their class rooms. Mr. Newnham also tried and failed. To illustrate the stature he already enjoyed, albeit a new and very young teacher, Mr. Roper was the only person with whom the boys would co-operate, and he sat in judgement of the case in the geography room. Mr Ward’s personal authority was eclipsed, and Richard Roper rose to the headmastership soon thereafter.
His appointment is not without its own revelation of the man. By this time, he had just married Merle, and they were busy praying that the Lord would send a Christian Head Master to Munro. It suddenly dawned on everyone that a potential one was already there, and Mr. Roper made a last-minute application. When the Board interviewed him, he answered with absolute frankness, and when posed with a question he had no answer for, he told those hard-nosed men of the world that he would simply “pray about that one.” Surprising to himself and to all Jamaica, Richard Roper was duly selected, and in 1955 became the youngest ever Head Master, at twenty-eight, of one of the oldest and most prestigious schools in all Jamaica.
He and Mrs. Roper faced all the difficulties together with prayer and pragmatism, and his wife’s support served him well. They were keen on exposing the boys to Christ as distinct from Christianity, and they did it all in the light of free will. You were not taught or treated any less if you didn’t believe, nor indeed any more if you did.
Munro College was all of 99 years old when he took over, and it was already a great school before he had anything to do with it. Since then, however, and up to now, the stellar reputation that Munro College enjoys as the last bastion of educated gentlemen, is due in no small part to the leadership of Richard Roper. Especially for those of us born between 1945 and 1971, when we say that Munro made us who we are, we are also saying that Roper made us who we are, because this was truly Roper’s Munro.
He protected the school’s best traditions and created his own, and he protected his office. He once told a boy- “you can mess with Richard Roper, but you can’t mess with the Head Master of Munro College!”
His methodology was instructive. Not a know-it-all, he instead listened to all, then made his own decision, and from then he was the lonely head that wore the crown. In technical matters, he sought the advice of the practical man or woman with a track record, made a list of things to do and did them. Also instructive was his philosophy regarding voluntary work. Voluntary work was voluntary until you volunteered. Once committed, he held you to account as if you had signed a contract with him at the Supreme Court.
He was not afraid of change. The new common entrance policy caused a sudden increase in the number of students, and together with Mr. Steve Harle, who had joined the staff in 1955, they initiated and nurtured the bus system, which eventually bought boys to school from all over St. Elizabeth. The increased population also made formal dining impractical, and so they created the cafeteria system. The school often had to close because the tanks could not supply water on a continuous basis. With the help of then Member of Parliament Derrick Rochester, Chairman of the Trust, Mr. Jackie Minott, and as many persons as he could commandeer, water was brought from the plains to two tanks, on two sites given by Munro, for the distribution of water to Munro and its wider environs.
The 1970’s came with a number of new national ideas, some of which many people thought unworkable. Three examples are school farms, student and ancillary staff representation on school boards, and the use of National Youth Service (NYS) workers.
Mr. Roper was way ahead on the school farm idea, for Munro was self- sufficient in milk and eggs since the sixties. He therefore used the government initiative to diversify into vegetable production, as well as having the entire school time-tabled for work on the farm. The use of three NYS workers as well as a Peace Corps volunteer enabled the farm programme to work smoothly and efficiently. He also saw to it that the student and the ancillary representatives on the Board were responsibly chosen, and unlike the rest of the country, all these changes were executed smoothly.
As quickly as he would adopt good new ideas, he was also unafraid to reject those he deemed unworkable. When the government attempted to introduce the Jamaica Union of Students into all schools, to, among other things, evaluate teachers, Mr. Roper put the matter to his staff and they were not in agreement. He then convened a meeting of the heads of high schools in the biology lab at Munro. The group protested to the Ministry of Education, and the proposal was withdrawn.
Moral Excellence and Fairness
You might think he was busy enough just dealing with Munro and all the many ways in which the school excelled in his time, academically and otherwise, but his service went far beyond. As a Justice of the Peace, he was on call twenty-four-seven, and truly helped to keep the peace. He preached in many churches in the outlying districts, and became head of the Bible Society of the West Indies. He resuscitated the local branch of the Jamaica Agricultural Society, and increased the outreach of the school into the wider community.
He reported to his school at morning chapel like a CEO reporting to his shareholders, and so taught us transparency, and that justice must be seen to be done. He encouraged extra-curricular activities, and taught us that life was not a spectator sport. He encouraged sports, but insisted on fair-play and gentlemanly conduct in sports, and taught us to accept both victory and defeat with grace and dignity.
He taught us to be gentlemen, and as he was in other matters, he led by example in how he treated his wife and the female members of the school community. He sometimes gave new life to the phrase “righteous indignation,” red face and all, but he also showed us that he was not too big to apologise when he was wrong, and also that he was grounded enough to have a laugh at himself. In tandem with Stephen Harle, he created an egalitarian society at Munro, where persons from diverse backgrounds could find common ground, and where we learned to appreciate and respect each other along the lines of personal values, instead of along the lines of class or colour.
He is mentor and maestro, icon and institution, leader and living legend, and for these reasons Richard Brooks Duet Roper, OD, was inducted into the Munro College Old Boys Association Hall of Fame.