Harry van Mierlo

In 1970, Harry van Mierlo became the principal of the Rijnlands Lyceum and with his arrival the roaring seventies stormed into the school. Everything was going to be different and the recent Mammoet Act made many things possible. Harry’s motto was: we do it together! That meant there weren’t just one or two people in charge, but a broad school management with five young thirty-somethings as deputy principals, almost all of whom were appointed by teachers and pupils through elections. Doing things together meant a lot of consultation with all those involved with school, including the students. The president of the student council had a full hour of consultation with the principal every week and he found that difficult, because the well-spoken students always had a long list of witty remarks and great initiatives. Harry eagerly embraced any plans that bubbled up from that meeting and, whenever possible, turned them into action, naturally after further extensive consultation with his school management committee. When the pupils of VWO 4 worried about the failure of the sugar beet harvest, a convoy of buses were ready in front of school at 6 AM the next morning to transport the 100 concerned volunteers to Zeeland. Unfortunately, those buses never left, because that night the state of emergency had been lifted.

Young teachers who wanted to make use of new possibilities for their subject would find a willing ear for their experiments with Harry. Everything was possible: if the social studies teacher wanted stools in his classroom instead of regular chairs and tables, these would be made available! Was it ever too much? Harry and his school management committee were steaming ahead, it seemed. The younger teachers appreciated, but the older guard sometimes got tired of it. He did not always notice this immediately, and neither did some of us. I remember a poetic letter from the French section, which ended in despair with the words: “Give us some time to weed our own garden!”. Our school has always been very much culturally inclined and Harry emphasised this: many initiatives from outside and inside of the school were warmly welcomed: Youp van ‘t Hek, who was completely unknown at the time, gave cabaret lessons in the auditorium on Friday afternoon. School trips to London and Paris had to be abolished because the zeitgeist called for training weeks in which you got to know yourself and others better, whether you were a student or a teacher – we all came back to the school as purified people. When the Ministry contacted Harry to ask him to establish an international department, Harry was not immediately in favour, because the business community seemed to have a strong hand in this. But when everything was said and done, he helped lay the foundations of what is now the International Baccalaureate with great conviction.

Harry was a man of many talents, but one of the most remarkable was the art of being ubiquitous. He would be present all evening at every school party or extracurricular activity, mingling with people and making small talk everywhere – at least, that is what we thought. Few knew that he had a town council meeting in Katwijk that same evening and had slipped away during the intermission or when a less interesting point was being discussed. He would speed to school in his car, show himself briefly in all places in school for half an hour, speak to everyone and then quickly return to Katwijk. “We do it together” was his motto; but he also attached one absolute condition to this: keeping an eye on each other, fostering a warm feeling of togetherness. Harry was literally a warm person who, if necessary, would warm up a teacher’s numb hands in the morning before she entered the classroom. His abbreviation in the school administration was Mo and that is what he was often called by his colleagues. Mo deserves a place of honour among the principals of the Rijnlands. As a good friend, he will always be in our thoughts.

Cor Geljon