Garth Ian Napier Sim
14/11/1914 – 27/05/2017
He lived through two World Wars, the 1918 ‘flu epidemic and the Great Depression before inspiring a generation of Tauranga schoolboys.
Tributes continue to flow after the remarkable life of Garth Sim ended over the weekend, well on the way to his 103rd birthday.
Former staff and students at Tauranga Boys’ College (TBC), where he was headmaster from 1959-1966, have called him one of the most innovative, respected, visionary educators the city has seen.
Family and friends recall a dignified, sagacious man who had a great sense of fair play. A lover of sports, gin, firm handshakes and cryptic crosswords, he had an expansive network of ‘old boys’; former students were welcomed into the Sim home for half a century.
As he eased off to sleep for the final time on Saturday, wife Nen was – as always in the last 77 years – by his side, about to celebrate her own 97th birthday. Earlier in the day, they had shared lunch with three daughters and Garth, appetite intact until the end, managed three courses.
However, it was his appetite for education that propelled him to Tauranga, from his beloved Otago.
Born in 1914 on a Waikaka sheep-run in West Otago, he spent his formative years in Balclutha and Heriot, in the days when a bloke lit gas streetlights from the back of a pony each evening.
He represented South Otago at schoolboy rugby level, then Otago Juniors and watched George Nepia and the 1930 All Blacks beat the touring British Lions at Carisbrook.
By the Depression years, he was working on the land and occasionally panning for gold until his father encouraged him to further his studies. After marching into Otago University in 1936, his love affair with education launched in earnest and his courtship of Nen began when the pair met on a train in 1938.
Stints at Scots College in Wellington, Tokomairiro District High School in Milton and South Otago Boys’ High followed, punctuated by the arrival of four daughters – Helen, Kay, Marg and Judy. The Sim family moved north when Garth secured the top job at Tauranga Boys’, starting in 1959, in what was a tumultuous period. The co-ed Tauranga College had split just a year earlier, stripping TBC of half its senior staff. The new headmaster worked tirelessly to recruit and train high calibre staff and gave the students a simple mantra.
“All that is expected of any boy is his very best at all times,” he wrote in 1960.
His innovative approach would see him implement a mentoring and training programme for young teachers. He was also was the first secondary school principal in New Zealand to appoint a full-time guidance counsellor. Under his watch, academic achievement and school pride rocketed as the school offered more subjects, more competition, more awards, more support and he insisted younger boys study both music and drama.
Former Tauranga Boys College deputy principal Rob Naumann is a former student who recalls Garth’s practice of personally delivering students’ mid-year and final reports.
“Each boy in each class was required to leave his desk to receive his report and with the handover came a perceptive comment relating to the students progress or lack of it, “ Rob says. “Regardless of the achievement level, each boy was left in no doubt that the principal cared about his performance and wanted him to do what he was capable of. It taught students accountability and, at the same time, made all students feel that they were valued at the highest level of school leadership.
“He was educationally innovative, a superb manager of people, a leader who never shied away from the difficult tasks, a man of humility, a warm personality and who possessed a determination and energy that would not be denied. He inspired so many through taking an interest in their lives and encouraging them to look at the possibilities ahead.”
Ill health forced Garth to step down from his college role but he continued to work until age 83. Initially, he was employed to manage training and education at Tasman pulp and paper mill in Kawerau and he went on to share his meticulous book keeping skills for accountancy, law and engineering firms around Tauranga.
But, for three quarters of his 102-plus years, Garth’s heart remained in education.
“For hundreds of boys he was the epitome of a man who valued respect for self and for others, values that are still very much central to Tauranga Boys’ College in 2017,” Rob explained. “What a legacy he has left.”
A celebration of Garth Ian Napier Sim’s life will be held at 11am on Friday, June 2, at Olive Tree Cottage, 247 Joyce Rd in Tauranga.