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8 January

OV Memoir on Professor Alex Natan

OV Paul Stevens

We are delighted to include an extract from OV Paul Stevens (H 52-59)’s memoirs about the inspirational people we meet in our lives and Paul writes especially of one very special King’s teacher, Professor Alex Natan.

“It’s interesting how words, said by another person, can change the way we feel about ourselves, and yet it is true for several I have encountered in my life journey. Two in particular are etched gratefully in my memory and certainly fulfilled what Shawn Hitchcock said, “A mentor empowers a person to see a possible future, and believes it can be obtained.” 

Both did just that at two crucial turning points in my life.

The first left Germany and his medical studies at Heidelberg University in 1933 to live in England motivated by his horror at the impact of National Socialism on society and Jewish discrimination events as Nazism rapidly increased. I do not remember him talking about his pre-migration fame as an elite athlete though I found later an early 1930’s newspaper headline The Fastest Jew in Germany nor his internment in Scotland during WWII. I knew him as my sixth form History teacher 1957 to early 1959. It was fitting that as a lover of history, Professor Alex Natan, should conclude his career at my school, King’s, that was founded by monks in the 11th century and re-endowed by Henry VIII in 1541.

Professor Alex Natan

Mr. Natan taught me writing skills such as how to reduce my twenty-page Essays where five would have sufficed; how to be more factual through research and not fear the dense prose of ‘old’ books when researching for historical information; how to structure my writings and arguments within them, how a sentence works. All of the above in his time taken to advise after class times on a one-to-one basis.

I was experiencing a lot of teenage alienation and angst at the time. When I told him that I was quitting school half way through sixth form he did not reproach me though both of us were aware that I was cutting myself off from a pathway to University. Instead, through many private conversations he explored my thoughts and feelings and gently debated the pros and cons of various future actions. When I shared that my dream was to see other countries but doubted my ability to earn sufficient to undertake this, he, in a teamwork approach, guided me to identify international for-profit employers with Head Offices in the UK. He coached me how to write enquiries for traineeships. Through this strategy, good behaviour and working hard he predicted I could merit an overseas transfer.

And so, it came to pass. One of my applications was successful and I was employed at 18 in the HQ of a London-based company which operated in 79 countries, some to which they sent me on several visits and at age 20 transferred me to Canada. My subsequent life owes much to the caring nature and sensitivity of Mr. Natan who acted beyond his remit as a teacher and saw pass the confused and unsettled adolescent I was at the time.

There have been other wise men in my life but none to equal the affinity, respect and selfless nature of Alex and the other mentor later in life, John.”

(Top photo: OV Paul Stevens, right photo: Professor Alex Natan)