By all accounts, Nixon Margolis, who died last month aged just 18, was a quiet, humble, mild-mannered young man.
When I visited Prince Edward School to photograph Nixon as their new head boy, we walked around the main school buildings for an hour or so. He immediately struck me as an unusual choice to lead this large all boys school, but an excellent one.
Although describing himself as an all-rounder, he emphasised to me his passion for the arts – drama and music. Unlike countless head boys before him, Nixon’s leadership was derived, perhaps, from his strength of character and likeable nature rather than his prowess on the sports field alone.
On our walk through the school, he stooped to pick up a tiny transparent piece of plastic that a breeze blew into our path, and without a second thought put it into his blazer pocket. I asked him what his leadership strategy was.
“I don’t talk too much. I like to keep them guessing,” he said. “When I do say something, then people really pay attention.” Maybe his gentle nature was something Nixon felt was best kept tucked away.
Nixon lost both his parents before he could walk. He was born in 1997 in Buhera, son of Sydney and Sipiwe Margolis. His paternal grandfather was the well-known Harry Margolis – a name that school goers know well from the eponymous hall that plays host to the Eisteddfod and other cultural events. Harry Margolis was the founder of Olivine Industries, and there is a Margolis Plaza on the corner of Speke Avenue and Harare Street. This is where Nixon’s uncle, Stephen Margolis, runs the current day family business. He met with me to shed light on the life and death of Nixon – something that hundreds of readers have asked about in recent weeks.
“Nixon’s father died in 1998 and his mother in 1999, so I took him in as my own when he was one,” Stephen Margolis says, in a deep resonant voice. “Nixon was quiet growing up. Sometimes I thought he was too quiet.” Also in Stephen’s office is Timothy Margolis, Nixon’s cousin, turned brother.
“Nixon liked to socialise and even though he didn’t have lots of close friends, he would really open up around the right people,” says Timothy. “He was naughtier than his parents thought he was. When daddy was out – that’s when Nixon would have friends over.”
Tim Margolis emphasised that Nixon was popular, though keeping only a small inner circle of close friends. But he made his mark on people, as evidenced by the moving memorial that was well attended by school-goers, not just from Prince Edward, but other schools too.
Prince Edward Headmaster, Dr Sora, describes Nixon as “Humble, soft spoken, forceful, and innovative,” adding that “these were the qualities I was looking for in my headboy, and Nixon was my personal choice. He executed his duties admirably.
“Nixon was unique. You would expect someone leading a big school to use his muscle and be shouting orders and commanding. But he was none of that. He was very humble and he would converse with his colleagues softly and getting results. I believe that PE needed a head boy like Nixon.”
Nixon only led Prince Edward for one term. Two weeks before it ended, he started getting ill – vomiting, loss of appetite and losing weight. Stephen Margolis says that he collected Nixon and took him to his GP. Nixon rallied a bit and continued with his busy schedule. Dr Sora recalls that Nixon, as per school custom, did the last reading to end off the first term of 2015. “That was the last time I saw Nixon,” he adds, sadly.
Nixon returned home and was frail, and not eating. Stephen Margolis decided to take him to hospital, and arrangements were made at Chitungwiza Hospital where he is deputy board chair.
“After we arrived at hospital, before putting him on a drip they did an x-ray and some tests, and determined that his chest was clogged. It was a bad infection. The doctors decided to do a full set of tests, but Nixon died before they got the results.” Stephen Margolis says that he has no conclusive diagnosis, and wasn’t pushing for one. “It’s too late now anyway,” he says.
To mourn this untimely loss, all six of Nixon’s siblings returned home from various corners of the globe. Precious, Matthew, Timothy, Michelle, Russel and Lesley – all older than Nixon, joined hundreds of mourners for a memorial at Prince Edward School. The funeral party then moved to Buhera, the Margolis’ rural home, where Nixon was finally laid to rest.
“There were two busloads of Nixon’s classmates, and students from other schools too,” says Stephen Margolis, “I was deeply moved, and I convey my thanks to Dr Sora and the whole school for the unbelievable support.”
Dr Sora is honouring Nixon Margolis in an unusual, yet deeply moving way. He says that, “Nixon is head boy for PE for 2015. One might be persuaded that he should be replaced. But I am not. Nixon will remain as head boy for the year.”
The staff at Harare News join with the numerous readers, who wrote to us online, to pass on our condolences to the family and friends of Nixon Margolis, and to Dr Sora and the whole of Prince Edward School.