President's Address 2015

Here you can read in full the address newly inaugurated JCC President Ronel Lehmann gave at the Club's Annual Dinner in November 2015 at City of London School.


Ladies and Gentleman, Honoured Guests

My first task as President is to record my personal appreciation to our Past President Keith Baker, who has together with his Committee, presided over the John Carpenter Club for the past year and worked tirelessly for the benefit of Old Citizens. We owe him a great debt of gratitude and I am grateful to him and Martin Israel for their kindness during my nomination, Election and a period of handover.

The title President is a very grand addition for a former pupil, who also is honoured to serve as a Governor of the School.  Talking of titles, I must offer a warm welcome to Adam Husain, our Head Boy, who is accompanied by not one but four Deputy Heads, Mark Bogod, Max Davidson-Smith, Rory MacLean and Gabriel Radus.

I want to pause for a moment and remember those caught up in the horrific events in Paris on Friday night. I am sure that many of us have business associates, friends and families affected by what happened and while we sit in the heart of the City of London enjoying a wonderful dinner, there are those who have been left totally distraught, are deep in our thoughts and need our support.

I remember with great affection when I walked up the steps of Victoria Embankment and was interviewed by Dennis Moore, the Second Master. On that day my mother held my hand and took me inside the splendour of the Great Entrance Hall. The interview was very business-like, open and any questions were designed to bring out the best in me, as a prospective pupil. When Mr Moore accompanied me back to my mother, and bid me farewell, I remember the firmness of his hand shake, and immediately new at that very moment, I had secured a place.

I told my mother as we walked away that I was going to be a pupil of the School. Now if you were to read my reports from some years earlier, she probably was right to temper my enthusiasm to wait patiently for the School’s note of their decision.  Let me read you one of my early school reports. I quote:

…”Ronel must learn that his needs are as important as others and not necessarily more so. His constant quest after special attention is often disruptive, and I hope he will realise soon that public-spirited behaviours is far preferable to self-interested motives. He has a potentially disarming nature which, channelled in the right direction, could gain him many friends and more respect…”

I have many more …and need to save the others for future speeches!

The offer letter arrived and I remember being ecstatic. I wanted more than anything else to come to the City of London School. There was something of a vibe, friendliness, warmth and spirit which exists to this day.

Here I have here the original clothing list and requirements which followed my parent’s acceptance of a place.
• Black jacket or black blazer, or School striped blazer, as sold by Harrods Ltd

• Top coat must be not bright in colour not extravagant in style. If in doubt a boy is advised to consult the Head of School before making a purchase

• Umbrellas may be brought to School only by members of the fifth and sixth forms

I do recall some special moments in the class room. Two lessons stick out for me.
• We always stood up as soon John Millbourn arrived to take class each morning and as he entered the room, he uttered the words “take a seat everywhere” and we sat down. However, one day before the end of term, I decided that I would literally do what he said and was seen clutching my chair and walking out of the class room, to screams of laughter from my fellow pupils.

• Dr Tim Metham was a chemistry master who helped turn me into a pyromaniac and to this day, I have arranged and fired some of the most incredible fireworks displays. He used to hold an end of term competition for the loudest bang. Well of course, I managed to secure the largest banger known to mankind. It was the size of a small kitchen roll. Anyway, we all retired to a corner of the laboratory and Dr Metham lit the blue touch paper. The noise easily won the competition and the dust from the high ceiling descended upon us. Other Masters came running into the chemistry lab to find everyone in the class falling about in hysterics.

I have addressed the John Carpenter Club at a previous dinner when I secured and introduced our guest speaker Angela Knight who was at the time Chief Executive of the British Bankers’ Association.

At that dinner, I invited my mother as a guest, to return to the School with me. I made a point of mentioning how much I enjoyed holding out my hand and helping her up the stairs of the Old School, like she did some four decades previously.

I also recalled being terrified of speaking in the Great Hall at Monday morning Assembly. It was nerve racking for a 16 year old Charity Appeal Chairman to address 800 boys with a microphone. But I confessed that I did find it a more terrifying moment when I was speaking in the Great Hall in front of my mother.

I moved swiftly on from my old lady to the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street to much merriment and hilarity, especially when Angela Knight responded, Honoured guests, ladies and gentleman and Ronel’s Mummy.

I have been fortunate to know a number of Headmasters, my own James Boyes. He was always very warm to me, patient and full of encouragement. Whenever you visited his study, it was full of the smell and rising fog of pipe smoke tobacco.

In more recent days, I had the pleasure of working together over many years with David Levin and when he decided to move to pastures new, I sneaked in, and attended his final assembly.

The pupils gave him the most thunderous series of standing ovations and applause, the sound of which has never been heard before and reverberated around the City. By any standard, it was an incredible and moving send off, for a very great man and I am so pleased to welcome him here tonight.

Now in front of every great man, there follows a Head.

Sarah Fletcher, who joined us April 2014, spoke at our last dinner with a barn-storming unscripted performance. She is an awesome leader who consults first and then gets things done at breath-taking speed.

We have a five year School Strategy Statement to 2020 and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to click on the School web site. No-one should be left in any doubt of her ability and dynamic stewardship to lead us to greater things and more successes.

She not only commands the respect of the Governors, staff, parents, pupils and Old Citizens, but the President of the John Carpenter Club.

Now all Presidents needs a theme for their term of office. And one of my first actions is to engage with our membership to ask the questions of what they expect of their Club. It is a while since we have done this and I know that Paul Wickham is going to help me to ensure that we really know what our members want. In an increasingly digital age, it is also important that the Club is central to Old Citizens lives and carries the pupils as they transition towards us.

After better engagement within our Club, my main focus is one which we all know well and can identify with thanks to the good work of Alan Willis.

And it is our Head’s vision to raise a £10 million bursary appeal over the next five years. We the John Carpenter Club will play our part and I will do everything to steer our Old Citizens to give where they can, raise funds from family and friends, approach business leaders and institutions where they have contacts to help us to reach our target by 2020.

I would like us all to be upfront about making a pledge to our School and heritage to enhance our funding capability of bursaries.

Before I sit down, I thought much about the end of my first address.

One of the reasons that I like fireworks so much is the pleasure that they bring to huge numbers of others. And it resonates with an old saying that whatever you do, people always remember the end.

Now as you have heard earlier, I was actually a terrible pupil in those formative years long before I arrived at the City of London School. I had the worst school reports, gave my parents many sleepless nights, got detentions, was even caned and sent home for appallingly bad behaviour. One of my early headmasters recommended to my parents that it might be in my interests to be sent to borstal.

Later in my life, I was lucky to fall in love with a school teacher who by co-incidence was herself educated at the City of London Girls School. She taught me much about myself, brought out the best in me and helped to bring understanding, compassion and my emotions alive, when boys of my age grew up sometimes keeping their feelings hidden and not expressing themselves fully.

Now you may wonder what is the point of me telling you all this?

It was during that time together, I actually witnessed at first hand the silent work of a teacher outside the class room, which goes unnoticed each and every day of the year. The preparation for lessons and homework, the marking, researching relevant links to current news, dealing with changes in curriculum and courses, writing of endless reports, helping other teachers and parent communications.

You do not get to see this as a Governor or appreciate the dedication and sheer brilliance of our teachers who put their class above and beyond their own family life and needs.

It was very humbling for me to see and experience, especially as I look back at my own early days and the hell which I metered out to those teachers who really at the time deserved better from me.

In proposing my Toast to the City of London School, I ask you to charge your glasses and to remember our teachers and masters for all the good work that they do which helps to make us better citizens, Old Citizens …and your President.

Ronel Lehmann
18th November 2015