Nozipho Tanyaradzwa Manyukwe
I vividly remember the first time I walked into his office with my parents when I was 8-years-old and we were looking for a Grade Three place.
At the time, it never dawned on me that St Thomas Aquinas Primary School would not only be my school for the next years, but also a place that I would call my second home.
He sat across the table with a reassuring smile.
I enrolled at St Thomas Aquinas in 2014 and in no time, I realised that Mr Cuthbert Chiromo was more than just a headmaster. Every morning, he would stand at the zebra crossing within the school premises and greet parents and pupils alike with the brightest smile on his face, regardless of how cold it was.
He knew each and every one of us.
He knew who had a sister or brother at school and who their parents were. After school, he would wait until every pupil had left the school premises so that he could also leave.
In the event that your parents arrived very late to pick you up, Mr Chiromo would lovingly drive with you to his house where you would wait for the arrival of your parents from the comfort of his home.
His ability to step into situations he wasn’t really required to or do things he didn’t need to was one of the attributes that made him a good man.
Mr Chiromo, who started work at St Thomas in 2003 and retired in 2021 believed in having a school platform that accommodated everyone so that everyone would have a place where they would thrive.
He encouraged pupils to participate in both sports and academics. His measure of a child’s importance was not built on their ability to come first in a race or in class. He saw more in every one of his pupils, something I believe we did not see in ourselves.
He always believed and encouraged. That is who he was. Even the last was first to him. During athletics competitions at school, he always made sure to cheer for the last person, sometimes using the microphone to cheer the person to finish the race. To him, finishing the race was important.
It is not surprising that even though he had retired two years earlier, on the last day of his time on earth, he went to Centenary School where he cheered pupils from his former school during an athletics competition. There is a picture of him mobbed by St Thomas pupils who did not know that just in a few hours, their hero would be no more.
Earlier on the same day, he addressed a meeting of school heads at Girls College.
Mr Chiromo fathered hundreds of children during his time as a headmaster at Founders High School, Mzilikazi High School and St Thomas Aquinas Primary School; children who achieved great things like him. People like Peter Ndlovu, he helped to raise in his earlier years.
There are many sportspersons who passed through his hands and went on to represent Zimbabwe. It is not only Peter Ndlovu. When we were at St Thomas, I was in the senior hockey team and we won the tournament. My friend, my schoolmate then and my schoolmate now, Amber Tozana was the star player. I was to go on to play for the Matabeleland hockey team and Amber has gone all the way to play for the Zimbabwe Women’s Under-21 team and she is just 17 years old, one of the youngest players in the team.
Amber was in Egypt when Mr Chiromo died, flying the Zimbabwean flag high as the team secured a place at the Women’s Junior World Cup in Santiago, Chile in December this year. This is who we are, those raised by Mr Chiromo.
In all honesty, I have never met anyone like Mr Chiromo. I have never met one who fights with kindness and rules with such understanding. He delivered promises and improved ideas. We have not only lost a teacher or a principal. We have lost a father, a grandfather, a hero.
Those who knew him well, know that if there was any discussion concerning a child’s education at St Thomas, he did not want one parent, he wanted both parents, mother and father, to come to his office. He was a man who understood, sometimes bending rules to show mercy. Some parents came to speak to him about issues of finances and some had their children allowed into the school with the fees being settled later.
Mr Chiromo loved his wife and family. In every speech he made, he always honoured and thanked his wife. He would have her stand up in the crowd and we would give her a round of applause.
His daughter, Marianne described her parents as a “unit, a team, a dream team built on the most romantic and beautiful love which never faded” and that was true.
On the sad day he died, he was coming from collecting a cake he had bought for his daughter Miriam’s birthday. It was meant to be a surprise for her, but he never returned; he died on his child’s birthday.
On that very same day, he was wearing white sneakers and he told some that he was wearing them for the first time, that very day he died and they had been bought by his son who is based in the United Kingdom. That’s him and his family.
Mr Chiromo previously expressed to some that he wanted to die peacefully, he did not want to give his family a hard time rushing him to medical facilities.
But then what happened last Friday, only God knows. He parked his car on the road in the neighbourhood, pulled up something like a cushion and rested his head. Our old man then went peacefully as he had wished.
Looking back at everything he did, there are many “thank yous” that I wish I had said to him, smiles I wish I had returned. I remember that on our last day of school as Grade Sevens in 2018, many of us cried, not wanting to leave the school which had become our home. A wish was made by countless pupils for Mr Chiromo to build a high school for us to attend.
Mr Chiromo was an example of excellence; his was a life lived with joy and accomplishment.
Nozipho Tanyaradzwa Manyukwe, a former St Thomas Aquinas Primary School pupil is in Lower Six at Girls College.