Rev. John Johnston, the last overseas Principal of Mount Hermon School, Darjeeling as well as of the Mount Hermon College of Education, is no more !
Rev. Johnston passed away around dawn at Hobart, Tasmania, this Easter Monday 17 Apr, surrounded by the closest members of his loving family. He had been critically ill for some time and his end came in the form of a heart attack.
Popularly known to both his students and his faculty of staff at Mount Hermon by various monikers such as Rev. J, Sir, Johnny and Pa J, Rev. Johnston first arrived in India on 14 Nov 1952 for a posting in Assam where he had been sent on missionary work by the Australian Baptist Missionary Society. His first contact with Darjeeling and the Mount Hermon estate was in 1953, when he was required to attend the Language School on site. Later the same year, on 6 Dec 1953, at the Carey Baptist Church in Calcutta, he married his wife, Valerie (neé Hutchinson). Their love had blossomed on the MH campus where Val had been doing a short teaching stint. The couple returned to Australia, where three of their children, Michael, Carol and Kristin were born. The stay at Mount Hermon had fired Rev. Johnston’s interest in teaching and he completed a teacher training course in Australia.
It was on an invitation by his predecessor, Rev. David G. Stewart, that Rev. and Mrs Johnston returned to MHS and Darjeeling in 1959 and had their first labour of loving service at Mount Hermon till 1971. It was in 1963 that Rev. John Johnston was appointed Senior Master at MHS. The Johnston’s had two daughters, Jenni and Lyndy, during this tenure of theirs at Mount Hermon School.
Coming out of self-imposed ‘retirement’ in Australia, Rev. John Johnston and his very supportive wife returned in 1978 to Mount Hermon School. The following year, 1979, Rev. Johnston took over the mantle of Principal of both the Mount Hermon School and of the Mount Hermon College of Education. The MH Teacher’s Training College, as it was popularly known, produced many illustrious teachers for the primary and middle school classes in renowned Indian schools, many of these teachers furthering their qualifications later and themselves going on to head prestigious schools both in India and abroad. Rev. Johnston continued as Principal at MHS through the tumultuous period of the GNLF agitation in the 1980s before demitting office in 1989.
The Johnston’s had a teaching assignment for a while at Wynberg-Allen School, Mussorie. Between 1994 and 2000, they were associated with Mountain Home School, Coonoor in the Niligiri hills. Here they served ‘under’ a protege of theirs, Mr. Henry Soggee, who had been a trainee TTC and then a teacher at Mount Hermon School. The Johnston’s had, for a year, carried out ‘voluntary work’ at Dr. Graham’s Homes, Kalimpong in 2000.
Though an Australian by birth and by citizenship, Rev. John Johnston was quite the Darjeelingey and considered MH as his home.
In his overall 40-year stint at Mount Hermon School, Rev. Johnston set standards embodied in this school’s motto ‘Non Scholae Sed Vitae, Discimus’, which translates to ‘Not for School but for Life, We Learn’.
Rev. Johnston always came across to those who interacted with him as being a nice, friendly gentleman who listened with keen interest to understand what each person was like. His twinkling blue eyes, neat wavy hair and gentle demeanour would put all at ease.
A charismatic principal who commanded respect from his peers, his subordinates and his students, Rev. John A. Johnston was a larger than life personality. An active man, he was an amazing swimmer. His penchant for music and singing spilled enthusiastically over into the Chapel Hall at MHS, which resounded with his powerful rendition of the chosen hymn at each daily assembly and often reverberated with his pianist’s touch. A patron of the performing arts, Rev. Johnston encouraged musical performances and theatrical features amongst his students and staff. Some of the very best of the Mount Hermon ‘Major Productions’ were conducted during his heydays.
Though primarily a reverend, a man of God, John Johnston loved Science, with Biology being his forte. He would take his classes with as enjoyment as one takes up a hobby. Despite being the Principal of a teacher training establishment, Rev. Johnston’s liveliest lessons were those that had no structured style of teaching. This lack of boundaries in his teaching methodology was appreciated by his pupils, who revelled in him challenging them to think and to reason for themselves.
Rev. Johnston spent many an hour with the Mount Hermon boarders. He gained the confidence of both the boys as well as the girls, and developed an insight into every single one of them. Few, if any, of those who received recommendations, citations and the Principal’s Remark on their report cards can say his statements, beautifully handwritten, were not an accurate gauge of their characters, aspirations and aptitudes. Even after leaving MH in 1989, Rev. Johnston made it a point to keep in touch with those who communicated with him, at first by snail mail and then by Facebook messenger and e-mail. When he found it difficult to reach out to his students and to his colleagues, his capable wife Valerie would step in to do so on his behalf.
Far from being rigid in his Christian approach, Rev. Johnston was able to accept and embrace the best doctrines of all the religions he came across while in India. He had a strong sense of moral and ethical values. These he ably put across to the senior students at the HiC sessions. The TTC trainees were invited to his residence at ‘Trees’ cottage each Tuesday for an hour or two of prayerful meditation accompanied by lovely singsong and sumptuous snacks ! A mentor to many, Rev. Johnston was certainly a tolerant and robust Christian who left an indelible mark on all he met.
Rev. John Johnston had the fervent philosophy that to know first hand about people is not about knowing what their background is but about knowing what kind of people they are inside.
Hermonites around the world mourn the loss of Rev. Johnston, the loss of a dear, kind person, the loss of a well loved and well respected gentleman. Principled and a person of fair play, Rev. John Johnston has been a father figure to many. He was a thorough person, a class act ! Strict but always approachable and available, Rev. Johnston now stays alive in the hearts, memories and conversations of Hermonites.
Condolences are offered to Mrs. Valerie Johnston and to the family, relatives, friends and well-wishers who have been left bereaved and who are grieving.
Rest in the light of perpetual peace, Rev. Johnston, Sir !!!
[*Mr. Terrence Wharton is himself a former Principal of Mt. Hermon and was also a TTC student of both Rev. and Mrs. Johnston in the 1982-83 batch]
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