It’s not an uncommon feature in a traditional boys’ school: a legendary character who seems to epitomise the institution. Wattie (Peter Watt) was that character at Saint Peter’s College in Epsom. I had heard of him before I arrived as a teacher a decade ago. He was ‘Mr Schoolboy Rugby’ in Auckland. Everyone knew Wattie. A huge man with one arm missing and a loud booming voice. Even when he spoke in a soft tone, it sounded a bit menacing.
If a love of rugby, beer and racing characterised many Kiwi males of Watties’ generation, he embraced the stereotype with gusto. Though by the time I met him, the beer was a minor component in the troika. But no one acquires Wattie’s girth on celery sticks alone.
Peter had been a student at Saint Peters. He had then become a Christian brother and teacher, eventually returning to his beloved alma mater.
He had performed numerous roles ranging from senior management to part-time classroom teacher. He lost his arm in a car accident while driving a school van on a rugby trip. I used to tease him that it fell off when they abolished caning.
Peter had experienced his share of trials in life. His strong faith had given him great comfort. In recent years his marriage to Michelle had given him immense happiness. Peter was a man’s man. This can sound like an insult in this strange world. In Peter’s case, it suggests blunt honesty and a decent man and loyal friend, warts and all.
We formed a staffroom singing trio with our mate Colin. Wattie sang well but could never remember the words. I am partially sighted and sing badly. Colin is deaf, both in hearing and musical ability. The Viagrons were soon advised that their staffroom performances were causing more pain than pleasure.
Each year in late November, Wattie would pick me up and we would head to Coromandel for school camp. Wattie would park himself by the swimming hole. Likely the world’s only one-armed lifeguard. Any rescue would have had to be done in diminishing concentric circles. Tourists who ventured down to the pool were soon frightened off by Pete’s ample butt crack as his stubbies ventured further south as the day progressed.
Peter officially retired a few years back. No great fanfare. No endless farewell ceremonies. No huge corporate retirement package. Just a quiet morning tea, some fatty savouries and a few speeches.
Teaching is not an easy or glamorous profession. Apart from free marker pens, one of the huge benefits, which is often overlooked, is collegiality. You meet some great people because few are in it for the money. Wattie epitomised this. Rest in peace, dear friend. You will be missed by many.
Peter Lyons teaches at Saint Peters in Epsom.
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