John Donald Wightman 1919 - 2017

The colourful life of John Wightman, a keen radio ham and foundation teacher at Tauranga Intermediate, has ended.

Mr Wightman, 97, died last Saturday. He left behind a family who would always be left wondering 'what if' - what if the British-born World War II veteran had not heeded migration advice from a friendly voice Downunder.

The young teacher was intent on migrating to Southern Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) when he revealed his life-changing plans to fellow radio ham operator David Mitchell who lived in Tauranga.

Advertisement

Mr Wightman wrote in his memoir "When I mentioned to him that we were contemplating a move to Rhodesia, he expressed horror. He had been there and would not recommend it as a home for a family. Why not come to New Zealand?"

The clincher was when Mr Mitchell offered the Wightman family use of his Poike Rd house for 12 months on very generous terms while he was in England on business. It coincided with the New Zealand Government announcing it would assist married migrants.

They were accepted for an assisted passage to New Zealand and arrived early in 1951, after the famous waterfront strike had begun. It held up delivery by nearly three months of the family's Morris Minor and a crate of possessions.

Mr Wightman's first permanent teaching job was at Tauranga Primary School where he remained until Tauranga Intermediate opened its doors in 1958. Having taught Forms 1 and 2 classes, he switched to the new intermediate and in 1965 became the school's assistant principal.

From 1969 he spent six years taking classes of top stream pupils through Forms One and Two, until the school's culture changed and classes were no longer streamed according to children's intellectual abilities. Mixed ability classes saw children with IQs of 140+ sitting beside children with below normal intelligence.

"I had been extending the classes with things like binomial theorem in maths and writing their own plays in French, but this was hopeless in the new environment."

The change coincided with a deterioration in his health, with the trouble not pinpointed until long after he had retired.

"My health was not sorted out until the early 1990s when we transferred to Dr Ross Ogle, one of my former students."

Mr Wightman was born in Eccles, Lancashire on July 8, 1919, and attended the highly regarded Manchester Grammar School - the same school as Tauranga's late mayor and business magnate Sir Bob Owens.

During his time at the school, he went on a six week trip to Germany which included a memorable five days at a military style Hitler Youth camp.

His obsession with radio saw him join the Royal Air Force Civilian Wireless Reserve in 1938.

A year later, he went from having a desk job with an insurance company on Friday September 1, when Germany invaded Poland, to stepping ashore in uniform at the French port of Le Havre the following Tuesday.

He was later posted to the Biggin Hill airfield in Kent and billeted at the West Wickham Tennis Club where he began playing tennis and met his future wife. Mr Wightman said the courtship was conducted wearing steel helmets when they went out, many times sheltering under a huge oak tree to avoid shrapnel being fired at German bombers.

Mr Wightman proposed to Joan during the first of the bombing raids on Manchester. He said the Germans celebrated her saying yes by dropping a stick of incendiaries, one of which he extinguished as it was blistering paint on his gate.

They married on January 8, 1943, when he managed to get seven days' leave and she had to borrow a wedding dress because of severe rationing.

The keen golfer and avid newspaper letter writer lived in the hearts of many of his former students, with ex-pupils still regularly visiting him at his last home in 8th Avenue.

Mr Wightman is survived by Ian and Val, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.