Address by M. G. Harper at Bruce Hamilton's Memorial Service
29th July 2020
Kau hinga te totara I te wai nui a tane
A totara has fallen in the forest of Tane.
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys of the College.
It is absolute honour to speak to you on behalf of the Old Boys' Association as we gather to celebrate the remarkable life of Bruce Glanville Hamilton, often referred to as the Admiral, The Badger, Scratch or simply BGH.
It is also a rather daunting task! Bruce was a brilliant teacher, a skilled speaker and one who was a stickler for precision and accuracy. He rarely made mistakes or was in the wrong and I sense that even now he is keeping an eye on me and prepared to correct me for any inaccuracy or omission! The red pen will be out!
When I was appointed as Deputy Principal in 1998, Bruce presented me with his Badger tie. I was greatly moved by the gesture and the tie has been reassuring when I have felt vulnerable and craved the sort of authority and fortitude the donor so effortlessly wielded. I wear the tie today and trust it helps me to do the Badger's memory justice.
My contact with Bruce began in 1967 when I arrived at Rathkeale as a young third former and he was a remote First Assistant and my 3A English teacher. Although he seemed old to us then, I now know that he was only 35 but his life was already rather remarkable and full of achievement, endeavour and promise.
One of three brothers - I acknowledge Brother Ross's presence here today - Bruce and his twin, Don, were enrolled at Whanganui Collegiate School in 1947. You boys will be impressed to know that, he was in the 1st XI Cricket team for four years and also its Captain. He was in the 1st XV for three years, a boxing champion and Head of Marris House for two years. Perhaps predictably he was awarded the Marshall Memorial Exhibition, one of Collegiate's oldest and most prestigious prizes, before moving on to College House in Christchurch and the completion of a MA with Honours in English at Canterbury. There after both he and brother Don fortuitously chose to make teaching their career. Thousands have every reason to be grateful for that decision.
Bruce began his teaching at the Sydney Church of England Grammar School and later taught at St. John's Leatherhead in Surrey before returning to New Zealand and joining Don in the ranks of the staff in the Christ's College Common Room. The Hamilton boys were quickly recognised as talented, conscientious and dedicated all-rounders. However, two Hamiltons on the staff was reportedly a challenge and we at Rathkeale are grateful that Bruce was brave enough, after sampling life at four impressive independent Schools in three different countries, to apply in 1963 for one of the two vacancies advertised by the recently founded Rathkeale College. As a consequence he joined founding Headmaster, John Norman, Mrs Faye Norman, Don Weavers and Mrs Dot Blathwayt as the team who, in association with the St Matthews School's Trust Board, planned and launched this College at the start of the 1964 academic year with a roll of 62 boys. At this point I acknowledge Mrs Norman who unfortunately can not be with us today and who retains fond memories of their time with Bruce in those challenging early years.
A photograph of Opening Day shows BGH in full academic dress, striding confidential and purposefully across the School House lawn. Thus, began a Rathkeale legend that was to span more than half a century. As Hamish Edge, 1991 Head Boy has observed, "he was a legend at Rathkeale, a man of small statue who possessed huge mana"
Personally, I quickly learnt to respect BGH and even to fear him. It never occurred to me that one day he would become a colleague, a confidant and a friend. - or that I would be standing here today! It was to be many years before I could naturally and freely call him Bruce - such was his aura.
Many people have mentioned just how crucial Bruce's role was in the establishment of the College. Whilst Headmaster Norman is rightly credited with the vision, dedication, commitment and tenacity necessary to put Rathkeale on the map, First Assistant Hamilton has been described by 1971 Head Boy, Michael Friend, "As the perfect compliment to the Headmaster" saying he played " a major role in establishing Rathkeale as an iconic learning, cultural and sporting environment."
They were an undeniably remarkable combination and this College is testament to their success.
Old Boys' memories have been many and varied since his death on May 8th. Many have focussed on his skill as an educator and teacher Hugh Drake, currently Head of Social Sciences at Palmerston North Boys' High School writes that
"Bruce was an exceptional schoolteacher and Man. He was by far the best teacher I ever had who never accepted anything but the highest standards from his students. Alongside this he was never short of an encouraging word. He had a huge influence on me as a student and as a teacher". These sentiments are shared by our Year 13 Dean, Shay O'Gorman who says he became a teacher because of Bruce example & influence.
Old Boy Andrew Freeman spoke for many when he wrote "Oh what an amazing teacher! I could close my eyes in class and imagine Franklin D Roosevelt selling his new deal or Churchill beseeching his nation to rise".
Many have felt lucky to be taught by him. His love of literature, his ability to bring history to life and to relish the juicy bits - his demand for high standards and, somewhat surprisingly for one who remained a bachelor for so long, his pride in, and support of, co-education have all been recalled by Old Boys and Old Girls alike. Tellingly when 1964 Foundation student, Graeme Carle published a book in 2012, he dedicated it to "Bruce Hamilton who first challenged him to read, appreciate and think."
But Bruce understood the importance of a holistic education, and as his own education at Collegiate will have underlined, there was more to life than sitting in a classroom. He was an able sportsman who as a young man had been a Wanganui rep cricketer, played for NZ Universities, was awarded a University cricketing Blue, played for the Nomads Club, led a tour to South America and played for Central Districts. Here at Rathkeale he coached both rugby & cricket at both first team level and at more junior levels. He was ,throughout his life, an able tennis and squash player. Incidentally, as an aside, these sports ensured, in Old Boy Adam Farmer's words, "A fearsome caring reputation" - not quite a sport perhaps - but close!
Bruce knew boys learnt valuable lessons about resilience, fortitude, team membership and loyalty from sport and he defended compulsory sport alongside his passion and drive for academic scholarship and excellence.
Old Boy, Michael Friend has commented "That Bruce was a fine sportsman and especially a cricketer who, as coach and mentor, developed a group of boys at a small college into an accomplished cricket XI that were promoted to the senior competition in 1969. No one was more proud than Bruce who played in the XI that season, providing guidance and strategy to the leadership group".
Bruce was very much at home on the Oval and was instrumental in having the Pavilion built. Returning from an exchange year at Rugby School in England, Bruce embellished the pavilion with a weather vane. It's is a replica of the one at Lords Cricket Ground and features Old Man Time removing the bails from a wicket. He opened the second Old Boys' Pavilion and was Patron of the Old Boys' Cricket club until his death. How special it its that the family have scattered his ashes on the Oval today.
To keep the balance, he encouraged public speaking, debating and drama. A Revue in 1964, written, produced and plagiarised by Bruce was, as Foundation Chris Gane has reported, a highlight - every boy in the school took part in this musical synopsis woven around Rathkeale life and based on the music of Gilbert & Sullivan. A modified rerun was produced for the College's 25th celebrations in 1988. That same year he produced the History & Register of the School which has become something of a bible for many. He was also passionate about books and this was further evidenced by his absolute commitment to the College Library which was built to his recommendations. It was his baby and its growing collection was to reflect its creator: literature, history, sport and general knowledge. Many of his purchases now constitute the College's significant archival stack and have recently been joined by books from Bruce's personal collection, generously donated by his family.
The man who was, I think affectionately known by many as The Badger, was Deputy Head from 1964-69, 1971-86 and a teacher 1987-91. I don't know who coined the name Badger, but a little research revealed that a badger has always been a symbol for persistence, confidence and strong will. The Badger may also symbolise individuality and aid independence. If a badger appears in your life, according to Mr Google, you will not depend on anyone and you will be ready to face any challenges that may appear in your path.
To Badger is to bother persistently or to persuade someone through constant and annoying effort.
It seems a fine nickname for the Deputy Head of a College with the motto
Nil Mortulibus Ardui est - Nothing is too hard for mortal man.
But badgers can also be aggressive. Certainly, our Badger was a potent and effective disciplinarian. It was an unwise or stupid, student who ever stood up against him!
Part of his role was to maintain and enforce the College's high standards - clean shoes, no hand in pockets, no eating in the street, blazers done up. Absolutely no swearing - that's for your edification boys.
It is sometimes possible to forget that Bruce was also part of a larger world than just this school. His family, his two very special wives, Sue and Fredericka and his wide circle of friends including many in the sporting world, the Masterton South Rotary Club and at the Schools he taught at or whose histories he authored or co-authored: Palmerston North Boys' High, Whanganui Collegiate, St. Paul's Collegiate and Kings College.
As a family man, a friend & mentor, a colleague, a teacher, a team member, a leader and an author, Bruce touched the lives of many thousands around the world and will be widely and fondly remembered.
In this little part of that great world, BGH the Badger was in all things the epitome of a Good Rathkeale Man and gathered here today alongside Old Boys around the world watching on live stream, we are grateful for the decision he made in 1963 to make this wonderful place his place and for the legacy that lives on.
In conclusion to use the words he used daily in the staffroom with military punctuality on the dot of 11 at the end of morning tea, "Time Ladies and Gentlemen, please."