Paton was born January 11, 1903, in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg, the eldest child of English settlers, James and Eunice Paton. While studying science at the University of Natal, he was active in dramatic and religious societies, won the five-mile race in his senior year, was elected president of the student body, and amused himself by writing poetry. He graduated in 1922 and was awarded his teaching certificate the following year.In 1925, Paton went to teach in a native school in Ixopo and three years later went on to teach at Pietermaritzburg College for another seven years. He wrote a great many poems and two novels, but destroyed the novels because they didn't satisfy him.Then in 1935, he quit teaching and entered reformatory work, becoming principal of Diepkloof Reformatory, which housed about six hundred boys. Paton began a program of reforms there,
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