Editorial: Restraint teaches lesson


When I gather with old friends from Hastings Boys' High School they always delight in bringing forth one particular story.

If people from outside that circle are present, the delight is even greater.

As a new sixth form prefect and captain of the First XI, I made a terrible error of judgment of a Saturday afternoon. To save my mother embarrassment, let's just say it involved a car and a school building. They don't mix.

While my friends recount that story with glee, there was nuance that they were not privileged to. Lessons given that have never been forgotten.

At the centre of what was a scary situation for a 16-year-old was Frank Crist, then principal of Hastings Boys' High School.

At 8pm that Saturday my angry father made me ring Mr Crist to tell him what had happened.

It might be a bit unfair to say so, but I was sure he'd had a few "looseners", probably after golf at Bridge Pa.

His response, once he'd taken in the ridiculousness of my true story, was: "We'll deal with it on Monday".

I duly arrived at school at 8am and waited outside his office with trepidation.

When we came face-to-face he talked to me briefly about what I'd done, then signed off with: "We'll write this off to experience. Now go around the back and have a look at what you did."

At that stage I was unaware that my father had spoken to Mr Crist and informed him that I would be paying for all damages.

A large group of boys who had gathered nearby to view the aftermath of "Harding's punishment" were bemused by the principal's actions ... almost disgusted.

He was known to swing the cane on occasions, and one of my close friends told me recently that he had taken four strikes and had never forgotten them.

A former first-class rugby lock with 100 matches to his credit as a leader of "school", Mr Crist was a massive presence. His walk up the aisle to begin the daily assembly, degree cape flying behind him, with deputy principal Major Eade up on stage on the lookout for those humming the Batman tune, talking, fighting or showing any other form of ill discipline, would be remembered by all old boys.

They were a formidable partnership who ran a disciplined school which many of us have fond memories of, even if we came a cropper now and again. Hastings Boys' was a big school in those days, up to 1200 pupils, and the aims of education were easily understood.

Certainly academic and sporting success were at the core.

As his obituary in Hawke's Bay Today yesterday outlined, Mr Crist, a WWII RAF squadron leader, symbolised those aims. Ruggedly handsome, there was no ambiguity about him; he was a man's man, and surely appealing to women.

In the years since leaving HBHS I've often thought about that incident; how could I not? There is no doubt I could have been punished further.

But the restraint embodied in those words, "write this off to experience", was a more valuable lesson than four strikes of the cane would ever have been.

RIP Principal Frank Crist.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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