PROMINENT Lautoka businessman Pyara Singh has always believed that his upbringing at St Thomas Primary School helped him become the successful man he is today.
President of the Lautoka Chamber of Commerce and Industries and the managing director of Lautoka General Transport, Mr Singh, says he developed his sense of discipline at the school.
"I loved growing up in that school. I remember the teachers and how they used to make sure that every student understood everything that we were learning.
"They were also very strict and they disciplined us every time we did something wrong," said Mr Singh.
Growing up at St Thomas Primary in the early 1940s, Mr Singh said the school had the perfect blend of a multiracial society.
"I had a lot of friends who were European and of course the kailoma and then there was us (Fijians of Indian descent) and the iTaukei.
"Everyone fitted well together and we had become not only classmates and friends but also brothers and sisters. We were a family," he said.
Mr Singh said it was being in a multiracial society like the one at his former school that gave him his sense of respect for other cultures.
A devoted member of the Sikh Society of Fiji, Mr Singh said he had great respect for the Catholic faith that was taught at the school.
"I loved our school and morning prayers about asking God to help us through the day and in our school work," said Mr Singh.
"No matter what religion we believed in, we all have that need to ask God for help and reassurance," he said. "And that was one thing I loved about St Thomas. It taught me that God should always be the centre of everything for you."
Mr Singh said it was because of his sound knowledge of the Catholic faith that he gained a lot of famous friends.
"I became good friends with Ratu (Kamisese) Mara and he liked the fact that I knew so much about being a Catholic.
"He even took me to Lau on one of his trips as Prime Minister and it was during this trip that I found out that I was the first Indian to ever set foot on Vanua Balavu.
"I always enjoyed being in the company of people like Ratu Mara because he had so much to give and I learned so much from him," said Mr Singh of the late president.
Mr Singh also credits his success to his relationship with Ratu Mara which, he again said, stemmed from his upbringing at St Thomas Primary.
The school is set to hold its reunion next month which most former and current scholars are looking forward to.
Before the school was opened in March 1925, several Lautoka children were attending school at St Joan of Arc at Qereqere, Nasigatoka.
When St Thomas opened in 1925 the students from Lautoka moved back to the town with the school being overseen by Sister Bernard and two other younger sisters.
In those days the school was divided into three distinct sections.
The Indian and the Fijian section was housed in the two-storey wooden building (directly behind the parish hall) and was under the charge of Sister Jerome with late Mr Andrew Moti and Mr Hari Charan as her assistants.
The part-European school was housed in the building adjacent to the present parish hall and was in the charge of Sister Fabian. The European section was in the two-storey wooden building near the sisters' convent and was generally known as the Convent School.