Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A cultured man

I went to the Turnbull Library to a presentation of Bill Renwick's illustrated lecture, Emblems of Identity which he originally delivered in Australia as a keynote address in 1978  at the 23rd congress of the International Society for Education through Art. I had known Bill for the best part of 60 years and thought of him as a very good close friend. Yet I realized that I didn't really know him until after his death, after I heard his eulogies and learned about his early life and his family background. I knew that he had a very broad vision of education, which he did his best to foster as Director of Education, I knew that he shared my love of music, I knew that he was widely read, I knew him as a historian, He was someone I could have great conversations with. I knew that he was an inspired teacher because I knew some people whom he had taught, but I didn't know his long life journey from a deprived impoverished background, growing up in a simple home with no books, no music, no art, facing the hardships of the great depression. I didn't know that it was the excellent education that he received at Seddon Memorial Technical College that encouraged him to train as a teacher, then on to lifelong learning, training teachers, teaching at the university, and ultimately moving into educational administration and policy making. It said a lot about New Zealand of the 1940s and 1950s, the New Zealand that my father fell in love with sight unseen, that a boy, coming from a poor, working class background with only his great capacity for learning, could have the opportunity to realize his potential. Bill was a polymath, at home with history, art, music, educational theory, and probably a great many other things, as well as a tramper, a naturalist, an aspect of his life I didn't share. This lecture showed the breadth of his interests. It was about art, about history, about people at home in the land, but it was also about an understanding of what made people tick, what the common grounds were and what were the areas of difference. Bill had the ability to see not only the details but more important, the whole picture. He shared this quality with another Bill, another senior public servant I knew, but Bill Renwick had an attribute not shared by many. He was a cultured man. His manners were gentle. He was soft spoken. He was a good listener. He took a genuine interest in others, and this made him a good conversationalist. As an outstanding scholar and administrator, he could have been justified in giving the impression that he was superior to other lesser mortals, but this he never did. He was humble as befits a cultured man who is aware not only of all the things that he knew and had accomplished, but all the things that were still out there to learn, to explore and to understand. He was really the best kind of New Zealander that my father, coming from in some ways a slightly more privileged background admired and respected on New Zealand.