Frank Graham

by Rod Smith

You may know Durban’s Frank Graham as a celebrity, a well-known voice, an actor of great reputation, or a sidesplitting comedian – but he was my teacher.

He knew that, as a child, I had a debilitating stutter. He knew I was terrified of being called upon to talk in the classroom or to be made the center of attention in the hallowed halls of Northlands Boys’ High School (now Northwood College). This did not stop him from subjecting me to the benign force that is good for a boy who needs a shove, who needs a fire started under his lazy rear. Mr. Graham, my Afrikaans teacher, did this for me.

There was much I loved about Frank Graham. He was a force to reckoned with in the classroom, a fine, fair disciplinarian, who always found the time to practice his jokes upon his admiring audience.

More than this, I recall cycling from my home in Blackburn Road to where he lived at the bottom of Broadway, where he’d painstakingly try to help me improve the quality of my schoolwork.

Thanks Frank, you’re a teacher’s teacher, and a gentleman. On occasion, as I recall, you are even quite funny.

Received: 1/26/2009

“My dear Rod

I’m still feeling slightly fuzzy, not to say overwhelmed, by your words in Friday’s Mercury. I was out of town at the time; in Jo’burg. A friend and colleague for whom I do recording work phoned me, bubbling with excitement and asked whether I’d seen your column. I only got back yesterday and another friend brought the clipping round …

You honour me with such a tribute and I thank you. I remember your stutter; I knew you as a nice kid and it only served to endear me more to you. I made enquiries to become aware of its origin, so I did know what the most probable cause was. I ever after took my hat off to your dad for realising that his drinking was tearing you apart and for stopping cold turkey – at least, that’s the way I heard it.

I do remember making you get up and answer just like everybody else, but you will remember that I never rushed you. You were fortunate to have classmates who liked you and didn’t take the mickey; at least, not that I ever saw any sign.

By complete coincidence, I saw the telephone number in the book today of another of my pupils who had a bad stammer. I think he was after your time: his name is Alex Keen. And I phoned him just to make contact; I haven’t seen him since he left. He is now a social psychologist (I think I’ve got it right) with rooms in Umhlanga Rocks drive. I’ve an idea that what he does is rather a lot like what you do. He was delighted to hear from me and we’ll meet soon. We must have been on the phone for nearly ten minutes and only once did I detect a slight hesitation. His stammer had been a lot worse than yours and I remember how he would sometimes slap his thigh to get himself going again which unkind morons found hilarious; I nipped that in the bud.

Thank you for your loving words, for that is how I view them.

“Sometimes rather funny …” – ha! Damned with faint praise! But at least you had said “side-splitting” earlier on! I prefer that!

God bless you, Rod – and thank you again.

Much love

Frank

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