Almost every successful organisation can trace its success usually to the influence of at most a handful of people who truly made an impact on it, and this is true too of Maritzburg College and its Old Boys’ Association. On the morning of Friday 10 March 2023, College and the MCOBA lost of one its most respected and influential leaders in Les Howard-Browne, who passed away peacefully at home surrounded by his beloved wife Esther, his daughter Debbie and other family members, at the ripe old age of 91. Les was just such a man, such was his influence on College.
Les was born in 1931, and went on to complete his high school career at College. In his final year was a burly, bustling lock forward in the 1949 College 1st XV, gaining selection to Natal Schools, and so began a lifelong passion for and service to College. Les and College became synonymous, it is impossible to think of one without thinking of the other.
His long and illustrious career in the service of his beloved Maritzburg College in so many capacities will be matched by few, if any.
Les served as the founding Chairman of the Goldstone’s Club that morphed out of the old 300 Club in the mid 1980’s, along with Ted Reed, Ian Rogers and others, that sought to improve the Kent Pavilion and Goldstone’s field and surrounds. It was the Goldstone’s Club that oversaw the transition of the Kent Pavilion from school pavilion into a facility that had a kitchen from which to serve meals, and a place in which Old Collegians and parents could also enjoy a few drinks on Saturdays while watching sport. It was the forerunner of the facility that is there today, and it is appropriate that the central room in the Kent Pavilion is named the Les Howard-Browne Room as it was his vision that saw this facility take shape.
Les was the first ever school Governing Body Chairman at College, serving in that role from 1986 to 1988 and as with everything he did, he served with distinction. He gave wise counsel to numerous Headmasters over many years, even after his term on the Governing Body ended. Aside from dispensing advice, he was passionate in ensuring that the wishes of the Old Boys of the school were taken into consideration in shaping the policies at College, and this has been key to the success of the school. He was the go to man and sounding board for anyone who wanted his advice, and almost anyone who had anything to do with running the affairs of College benefitted from his wisdom in all things College.
It’s hard to single out anything specific about Les’ passion for College, but for sure the Maritzburg College Old Boys’ Association was very close to his heart, and he bestrode it like a colossus. He served as its President for two terms, from 1985 to 1988 and again in 1992, and until his very advanced years was always intimately involved it its affairs, and was to be seen at reunions, branch functions, dinners and luncheons, very often accompanied by Esther, who was a source of enormous support for Les, playing the piano at memorial services in the Chapel and at veterans’ lunches. Les hardly failed to attend a function and his large frame bedecked in his striped blazer and tie could hardly be missed at any College gathering, especially as he was usually surrounded by a throng of people seeking his company.
It was fitting that Les was made an Honorary Life Member of the MCOBA, but given the magnitude and longevity of his service, it hardly seems an appropriate enough gesture. His name appears on honours boards all over College, and so it should be, the school and its old boys ought never to forget the contribution made by one of College’s favourite sons.
But facts and dates don’t begin to capture Les as a person. He was physically and intellectually an imposing man who was unafraid to express his opinion, yet very happy to hear and consider the viewpoint of others. He did not suffer fools gladly but was at the same time kind and compassionate. His gruff exterior and strong will, caused his great friend and fellow Old Collegian Ian Rogers, to nickname him “Butch”, but Les always had a twinkle in his eye and an impish sense of humour. He loved nothing more that telling amusing stories (often whispering conspiratorially behind the back of his hand and nudging one with his other hand if they were a bit risqué) and so he was always accompanied by fun and laughter. If he felt passionately about something, and this was usually the case when it came to College, he was quick to ring one up or pull one aside with an earnest request that something be looked into or addressed. He was relentless in ensuring that things he considered wrong be put right.
Les had a close friendship with Skonk Nicholson, that began when Skonk was his 1st XV coach and lasted until Skonk’s passing in 2011. No doubt he and Skonk and his other great College friend Ian Rogers are now all reunited and chuckling over the same stories they were wont to tell, and reminiscing about our great school and the times they spent there.
We extend our deepest sympathies to Esther, Peter, Mark and Debbie and their families, and thank them for sharing this great man with us. His contribution to College was immeasurable, and we can never thank him and you all enough for the privilege of having him serve our community.
Rest in peace Les, you can reflect on a job well done and a life well lived. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You will never be forgotten, great friend.
Pro Aris et Focis.
Class of 1975. MCOBA: Honorary Life Member, Past President, and current Executive Member 2023.