Iona High past student passes the baton

Rev Millard Edwards one of the sparks at the school's 70th anniversary service

Staff reporter

Sunday, January 20, 2019

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It was like homecoming for Reverend Millard Edwards, 85, a past student of the former Folk High School, founded in 1949, as he sat among students of the now Iona High School in Tower Isle, St Mary, some 60-odd years later.

Last Sunday, the school community kicked off its year-long celebration of the institution's 70th anniversary with a symbolic passing of the baton and thanksgiving service at the Immanuel United Church, where Edwards was a specially invited guest.

“It's good to see how far the school has come, from a time when it wasn't so many of us back when the school was in Goshen,” Edwards told the Jamaica Observer.

Born to a family of nine children in a farming district in St Mary, Edwards said he did not attend high school until his late teens.

“I lived in Derry in Lucky Hill and the school was in Goshen, so we used to walk from Derry to Goshen to go to school. But my father was a peasant farmer and district constable, and my mother, she did sewing at home, so we worked the land, plant yam and banana and raise cows.”

“I went there [Folk High School] a few years after it started at about age 17, as one of the early students,” said Edwards.

The former student reflected that it was the near-death experience of the founders at the hands of misguided indigents that formed the catalyst for what is now a long-standing institution.

“Dr Herbert Swaby and Mrs Gwendolyn Swaby was a dynamic couple. They started the school after a very unfortunate incident where their house was broken into and they were badly beaten up. And at the time Mrs Swaby was pregnant and was very traumatised after the incident. This was when they had the idea to start a school for the poor people,” said Edwards.

Member of Parliament, Robert Montague who was another special guest at the thanksgiving service, reiterated that today, Iona High School continues in that legacy of catering to the poor.

“The original vision from Reverend Swaby was to provide an education to the poor of this land, to give them a fighting chance, to allow them to use education as that ladder of success. In celebrating the platinum anniversary we must reflect on the way that Iona has influenced and changed lives in this community,” Montague stated.

Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, also sent his congratulations and encouragements through his representative, Custos Rotolorum of Kingston, Steadman Fuller.

“This unique institution has transformed the lives of many since its founding in 1949. Our country owes a great debt of gratitude to the founding father, Rev Dr Herbert Swaby and his wife, for his pioneering initiatives and dedication which has resulted in the major impact of the Iona schools on our country up to the present time.

“This church service is a fitting occasion to look back with pride, satisfaction and acknowledgment of the foundation which this institution has laid for your academic accomplishments, personal and social achievements and hopes for the future,” said the governor general.

Now a retired minister, Edwards said it was at Folk School that his 60 years of service in ministry was launched.

“I became a Christian right there at Folk High School and started to preach in the community. They used to call me deacon in my home district and the neighbouring districts.

“We were never allowed to forget our motto, 'With God, all things are possible', and in any situation, we were first encouraged to turn to God.

“We had to treat one another with respect. We were taught how to be gentlemen and ladies, and to be of service to other people, and not to think that the world belonged just to us alone; that everyone of us have a right to it,” Edwards said.

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