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Thursday 15 November 2018
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FR LAI FOOK KEEPS GOING AND GOING…


At age 84, Father Arthur Lai Fook CSSp (of the Holy Ghost Fathers), is still teaching Mathematics to the Advanced Level students of St Mary’s College. Born in Penal to shopkeepers — Joseph, who had come from China and his Guyanese wife Jessie, whose parents came from China — at age one Arthur was sent to live in Port-of-Spain with his eldest sister, 19-year-old Ellen, who eventually became Mrs Louis Jay Williams.  “I was the last of eight and when I was born my mother was, I suppose, over forty,” he recalled. “And running a shop and minding a baby was a bit difficult.  My sister was already in town taking care of the older ones who were going to school.” In his formative years, Arthur changed schools often: “could be because we lived in many different houses.  I first went to what was Columbus School but which is now Nelson Street Boys’ Roman Catholic. We lived then at 25 Queen Street.”  They moved to 77 Abercromby Street and he was sent to Tranquillity Intermediate. 

A move back to 76 Queen brought a shuttle to Iere Central High School. “It was really a private primary school in spite of the name ‘High,’  run by Mr Regis at 29 Edward Street,” Arthur explained. “The reason for this move could have been that I had to make my First Communion at Sacred Heart Church, and Confirmation at Rosary, both on the same day.” Young Arthur sat the Government Exhibition from Iere — there were just eight in those days — placed 11th and was awarded a private school exhibition.  “In those days the government wanted to encourage private schools as there were not many public schools so they gave these schols.”   In 1930, Arthur entered St Mary’s College with no thought whatever of the priesthood in his mind. Also up to this time, Mathematics which became his lifelong field, was “just another subject.” “That was until Fourth Form when there was a geometry problem on the board and I found that I could work it out,”  Arthur explained. With perfect memory, Father Lai Fook listed awards he had received over the years, from the Junior Cambridge Certificate in 1933 to one of two open scholarships in 1937. “I never considered myself to be brilliant, it was nothing like that at all,” he offered modestly.  He placed fourth in the junior certificate exam, but because of the intense competition between Queen’s Royal College and St Mary’s, was made to repeat to win the Jerningham Silver Medal.  He also got one of four House Scholarships.  In 1935 he placed first in the Senior Cambridge Examination and won the Jerningham Book Prize.

One year later he was second to this country’s first President Sir Ellis Clarke, in the Cambridge Higher School Certificate exams.  Lai Fook repeated in 1937 and won an Open Schol and the Jerningham Gold Medal.  The Mathematics Scholarship was introduced the next year. He taught Mathematics for one year at his alma mater, and having sometime in 1936 decided that he wanted to be a priest, went to the Holy Ghost Fathers in Orly, France as a novitiate.  “I stayed for one year and concentrated on the priesthood.”  In 1939 Lai Fook entered Dublin University College, Dublin National University in Ireland. At the end of five years he had completed a BSc and an MSc in Mathematics, a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Higher Diploma in Education, while living at the Holy Ghost Seminary in Dublin.  There he started to study Theology in 1945. When the war ended he continued at Fribourg in Switzerland towards the Baccalaureate in Theology.  He was ordained in 1947 in Switzerland and returned to teach up to A’ level Mathematics at St Mary’s. From the end of 1948 to 1958, Father Lai Fook was Junior Dean of Studies to Father Graf in charge of Forms 1 to 4. With responsibility for students’ studies and class discipline, he became the feared but well-respected “Chin” or “Jap.” “‘Chin’ probably from my Chinese heritage and ‘Jap’ from the war.” When Father Pedro Valdez became principal, he was promoted to Senior Dean.

In 1962, the University of Nigeria a State University, was started and Father Lai Fook joined the staff, especially because he would have been able to act as Chaplain to the Catholic students. After just two years, he returned home to lecture at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus for another two years.  From 1966 to the present time, he has been at St Mary’s where he served as Principal from 1971 until his retirement in 1978 at age 59.  He continued to teach Mathematics on a contract basis for another eight years after which time his contract was not renewed. Because of his love for teaching however, he has happily taught voluntarily for the past 17 years, still teaching four classes per day, and quite successfully at that as seven of 22 students received A’s in the recent A’ level examinations. Still in good health, the 84-year-old cleric who says Mass every week-day morning at 7 am at the College Chapel, plans to continue teaching “as long as I am able  to whether physically or mentally.”  He is one of 13 priests living at Spiritan House, next door to the College.

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