Remembering Sir John Graham KNZM CBE ED


Sir John Graham KNZM CBE ED
9 January 1935 - 2 August 2017

Sir John Graham, the iconic headmaster of Auckland Grammar School, led a remarkable life full of achievement, service to others and a lifelong commitment to excellence.

To a generation of Old Boys and, indeed, to the wider Auckland community, Sir John exemplified the best qualities of Auckland Grammar - hard work, uncompromising integrity, fierce competition, and compassion for others.

His interests and achievements spanned the worlds of education, academia, sport, business and charitable concerns.

Sir John served as Grammar's ninth Headmaster from 1973 to 1993, before serving as Chancellor of the University of Auckland from 1999 to 2004. In both positions, he was a role model and mentor to a generation of Aucklanders, both students and teachers alike. He was Chairman of the NZ Education Scholarship Trust and served for many years on the Woolf Fisher Trust.

Sir John's achievements in the sporting world were legendary. He played 22 tests for the All Blacks - including three as captain - between 1958 and 1964, and was President of the New Zealand Rugby Union from 2005 to 2007. He also served as Team Manager of the New Zealand cricket team from 1997 to 1999.

In the business world, Sir John's wisdom and insight were sought after by numerous companies that asked him to serve on their boards of directors. He was a founder and director of the Academic Colleges Group of New Zealand.

Sir John received many notable and well-deserved awards, which reflected the high regard in which he was held across Auckland and, indeed, New Zealand. In 1995, he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) for services to education. That was followed in 2011 by his investiture as a Knight Companion of the NZ Order of Merit in 2011 for services to education and sports.

He was named "New Zealander of the Year" by North & South magazine in 1999, and received the "Distinguished Citizen of Auckland" Award in 2009. He was awarded the Blake Medal in 2012 by the Sir Peter Blake Trust.

For any Old Boy lucky enough to attend Auckland Grammar during his tenure as Headmaster, Sir John will be remembered not just for his remarkable achievements but for his sheer imposing presence - illustrated daily by his ability to silence 2,000 boys every morning merely by stepping on stage.

School assembly every morning reflected the man - quick, decisive, efficient, with an occasional flash of humour. At Grammar, Sir John did not just set the standard - he was the standard. He demanded much of the boys and staff under his leadership precisely because he asked and gave the same of himself.

He represented what was possible if one worked hard, practised often, supported others, reached outside one's comfort zone, and he inspired generations of Old Boys to do precisely that.

He quietly mentored and befriended generations of boys, and remained in touch with support, guidance and encouragement for years as they grew into men, long after they left school. His true legacy is reflected in those men, and the School that shaped them.

It speaks volumes that Sir John's reputation travelled well beyond the School's boundaries on Mountain Road - pupils and competitors at other schools also spoke respectfully of "D.J. Graham", and grew used to seeing him cheering Grammar on against them from the side-lines. He earned their respect, too.

Sir John was an ardent defender of Grammar's traditions, in the face of constant pressure for change. As Headmaster, he not only defended, but made no apologies for, academic streaming, uniforms, internal examinations every term and an insistence on excellence in every aspect of School life, from the classroom to the sports arena to the cultural stage.

He was an active and constant supporter of a wide variety of sporting and cultural events - during his tenure as Headmaster, Grammar won its first national secondary school championships in basketball, badminton, cross country, rowing, rugby, soccer, water polo, wrestling and yachting.

That alone is remarkable, and a testament to his vision and competitive drive, but Sir John would be prouder still that the foundations he laid, with the help of staff and boys, have survived and flourished, leading to continued success at the School in the years since.

To the Old Boy community, Sir John's passing is a huge loss. He had a great impact on many of our lives, and on the institutions and community he served.

We remember him fondly, we salute his achievements and a life well led, and we are grateful for all he did for our School. Few have better exemplified the School motto.

The thoughts of all Old Boys are with Shiela Lady Graham and the family at his time.

Per Angusta Ad Augusta.

David Dickinson '84
President, AGSOBA


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