The funeral was a quiet affair. His family was there, of course. And some local dignitaries, although he would have been disappointed that more of his colleagues and high ranking Department of Education officials were not present. It was a cool but sunny and frosty morning in this mid-sized, historic country town. People were milling around the outside of the old sandstone church with the tall steeple in that awkward way that they do at funerals. There were several men in similar dark suits. Some greeted one another with half-smiles while a few stood at the periphery and sporadically glanced at their wristwatches. The Area Director was there and gave de facto apologies for the Regional Director to the widow, at his first opportunity. Then he slipped away.
Michael Barclay had died after recently achieving his long term career goal of being appointed as the principal of the better high school in a desirable town. He was relatively young to have achieved such a position.Michael Barclay was a man in his early forties but his boyish looks made him seem even younger. He was of medium height, slim, had very straight blond hair that was parted on one side and wore large, square, black-rimmed glasses. He could have been accurately described as reasonably handsome in a “nerdy” type of way. The sort of appearance common in photographs displayed in the window of optometrist studios.
Michael Barclay rose quickly through the ranks of teacher, head teacher and deputy principal to eventually be a school principal. He was popular with his superiors at every stage of his career and he was earmarked early on by his colleagues as someone who would advance to a high level. He had the presence of mind to remain calm and speak positively no matter what demands were made of him. Even if expectations from his immediate supervisor were unrealistic, unreasonable or unfair, he would nevertheless agree. He never complained about or disparaged anyone or showed genuine displeasure. He was extremely considered, never spoke spontaneously and knew just what to say to please his bosses. David was well known for never arguing against or criticising any Department of Education policy or new instruction that was announced. Even when others would groan at the ever increasing accountability, responsibility and paperwork demanded year after year, he would keep quiet in regional school principals’ meetings and not join in with his colleagues when they complained, unless he felt that he was noticed for his lack of concern. Then he would affect some mild form of annoyance and support for his colleagues. He was never negative about anything or anyone in public and he knew that this was highly respected and valued by those who could assist his career. He would wearily offer to take on more duties even when told he was spreading himself too thinly. His supervisors found him to be reliable and easy to get on with. Even when he made an effort to be mildly critical in order to appear passionate about something, he would do it in such a way that his concerns sounded complimentary to his supervisors and positive in terms of the confidence he had in them. It always reflected well on him when he did this. Females in high ranking positions especially admired him. He came across as a somewhat gentle and emotional man who always deferred. The type that you would sympathise with because he might easily be bullied. He was no threat to anyone.
Michael Barclay would always start a conversation with someone of a higher position to himself by asking after their family and had trained himself to remember the names of partners and children. He never refused or even hesitated when asked to take on tasks that were unpopular, from those above his employment rank. He had even completed a short stint at a very troublesome school with a high proportion of indigenous students in an isolated and disadvantaged area that no one else wanted to take on. He implemented Department of Education polices that were required without making much of a difference to how the school operated and initiated innovations that appeared to be politically correct but that had little real effect. He managed to administer the school with a minimum of bad publicity for two years after which he had applied, and was successful in, gaining a position somewhere more favourable; for the sake of his family, even though he told those around him that he would much prefer to stick it out at the difficult school in the unpopular town. The Reginal Director understood and recommended him for the more favourable position in return for what he considered a job well done.
Michael Barclay had meticulously choreographed a stellar rise to the top. His calculating and immaculate behaviour gave rise to a variety of responses from his male colleagues ranging from mild amusement to simmering resentment. Female colleagues universally venerated him. Sometimes he would be chaffed by his male colleagues during social occasions associated with conferences and regional meetings. During those times he might be referred to by various unflattering nicknames as “golden boy” or “the chosen one”, at which times he would join in the banter and laugh along. Sometimes, just a little too loudly. At one social occasion he stood beside his Area Manager who was making lewd comments about an attractive female principle while watching her on the dancefloor. And laughed a little too sleazily.
At a dinner after one regional principals’ conference, Michael Barclay manoeuvred his way to the main table and sat opposite the Minister of Education. After exchanging pleasantries and asking after the minister’s wife and children, he opened the conversation with:
“I’m really enjoying the challenge of being the principal of an older and experienced staff”.
This was code for saying that he was successfully dealing with staff intransience. He pretended not to notice the wry smile on the face of a colleague who was sitting next to him and ignored the contemptable sigh of another who was close by and decided to get up and move from the table.
Leanne Hazel was a high school student of fifteen with the full figure of an athletic young woman. She had orange-red hair and an angular, thin nose on a freckled face with small eyes that looked slightly oriental. The almond shape of her eyes was enhanced by dark eyeliner and light blue eyeshadow that flashed bright when she blinked. She wore a body-hugging, white school blouse, left unbuttoned at the top and a tight fitting blue tartan short skirt. Her young body was firm and round and her legs were strong and shapely. Leanne Hazel walked the school grounds with a confidence that said she both knew and understood her attraction to males. She seemed a troubled child who often got into fights with other girls and into conflict with her teachers. Leanne had been suspended several times and was proving to be a bad influence on other girls who looked up to her as a role model. The Deputy Principal decided that it was time to refer her to the Principal.
The first time she attended the principal’s office was with her mother for a special return from suspension meeting. Leanne had earlier been reported to the Deputy Principal by her English teacher for repeated and inappropriate language in class of a sexually explicit nature. The DP had suspended her for three days. Leanne’s mother confided in Mr. Barclay that she was extremely concerned about her daughter’s increasingly wild behaviour, especially with older boys. The Principal noticed that Leanne’s mother wore a very low cut blouse that displayed a significant part of her breasts and wore similar eye makeup to what Leanne did. Mr Barclay warned Leanne and her mother that Leanne was heading for expulsion from the school if her poor behaviour continued and that her future success in life would be subsequently compromised.
Mr Barclay had a heart-to-heart talk with Leanne after her mother left his office. The talk seemed to register positively with her. It was the first time in Leanne’s life that an older male had shown such a caring and considerate attitude to her. He spoke of his own family, his wife and especially of his teenaged daughter and his hopes for her future. Leanne told Mr Barclay all about her ambition to become an actress. Mr Barclay had seemed genuinely interested in and supportive of the idea, in contrast to the derision expressed by her mother over the subject. He let Leanne know that his door was always open to her if she needed to talk to him but that she had to change significantly or she would have to leave the school. He said that he would speak to her again soon.
The occasional chats between Mr Barclay and Leanne in his office seemed to have a positive effect on the girl. She stopped wearing so much makeup to school and started to wear longer skirts and more modest blouses. She managed to stay out of trouble in the playground and behaved better in class without causing too much fuss, as long as her teachers did not challenge or confront her. Teaching staff were instructed by Mr Barclay to avoid conflict with Leanne. The regular conflicts with her teachers almost completely disappeared. The unthinkable happened and she even started to have a positive influence on other girls in her year group. Leanne’s mother, the DP and her teachers were amazed at her transformation and were very pleased. Everyone gave the credit for the change in Leanne’s behaviour and attitude to Mr Barclay, his personal interest in the girl and their private chats. Mr Barclay’s reputation was enhanced.
Occasionally, Leanne would become agitated over something that happened in the playground or in class and ask for a chat with the principal after which she would always seem calmed, settle back down and continue with her positive behaviour. Then, one afternoon, while in tears, she asked to see Mr Barclay and had a long meeting in his office that lasted several hours, from the end of the lunch break all the way to the final school bell.
The next day Leanne turned up for school at her regular time. She was wearing heavy eye makeup, a tight blouse that was unbuttoned from the top that exposed the top of her breasts and her old, tight short skirt.
Mr Barclay did not attend school that day.
Michael Barclay was found by his wife hanging from a rope around his neck in the garage of their home.