The Rare Birds of China


One of the highlights of my role is to swell with pride when I hear our students or alumni praised.

On September 7 – yes, in the middle of the first week of school – Sir David Newbigging will present the School with the limited edition set of prints, “The Rare Birds of China”. Sir David is English, was born in Tianjin, China, and grew up in Hong Kong, where he spent much of his life. He eventually became CEO of Jardine Matheson, the largest commercial enterprise in Hong Kong, and still today in the top 200 publicly traded companies in the world, ranked by market capitalization. Sir David attended our School from 1941-45, away from the ravages of the Second World War in Asia.

SMUS-RareBirds-02In the 1970s, when Sir David was CEO of Jardines, as it is known, the company commissioned a set of thirty-six paintings of the rare birds of China, to be painted by the renowned wildlife artist, Fenwick Lansdowne. A limited edition set of signed prints was produced, and a set of these will come to rest with SMUS. In the past few months I have had a warm exchange with Sir David about the prints, and about some of his history at the School.

For instance: Fenwick Lansdowne. In the emails between me and Sir David I commented what a piece of serendipity it was that one alum, Sir David, was bringing back to the School the paintings of another alum, Fenwick Lansdowne. Sir David wrote back in surprise: he did not know Fenwick was also an alum of the school, 1948-52. Fenwick lived all his life in Victoria, and was recognized very young as a distinguished artist of birds in particular, the acknowledged successor to John James Audubon.

In subsequent emails, SMUS connections really did start to take shape as that glistening web we imagine it is, at its best moments. I asked Sir David if he also knew David Anderson, who wrote the article in School Ties in 2009 when Fenwick Lansdowne died. David Anderson was at the school from 1944-47, and had a distinguished career in politics, serving as a cabinet minister in several portfolios in Liberal governments; most notably, he held the position of Minister of the Environment for five years – the longest-serving minister in this portfolio in Canadian history.

Sir David wrote back saying yes, he knew David, but knew better David’s brother, Malcolm, who died several years ago. I was able to write back that I knew Malcolm well; when I first arrived at the school, Malcolm and I regularly played squash, and his daughter, Marianne, was the first Head Girl of the school. I then asked if Sir David also knew Tony Quainton, who happens to be an Advisory Governor at SMUS, and whose distinguished career in the United States Diplomatic service included several ambassadorial posts, and culminated in his appointment under President Bill Clinton as the Director General of the US Foreign Service – the senior American diplomat. Of course he remembered Tony, and Sir David said he has followed Tony’s career closely. Tony is now Distinguished Diplomat-in-Residence at the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. This year Tony celebrated his 70th reunion as an alumnus.

Sir David was knighted in 2012 for his profound service in the UK on behalf of cancer research. Two weeks ago I was in London pursuing the final funding for our new Dining Hall and Student Centre. Sir David and his wife invited me for dinner and said to bring along some alums if I could. Katherine Tweedie (1994), Alex Richie (1981) and David Chmiel (1991) joined me. I just received an email from Sir David this morning; speaking about our dinner, he said, “We also thoroughly enjoyed meeting you and your three alumni. They were an impressive lot.”


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