Fond memories of a simpler time

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Frank Leadley's memoirs, Frank Speaking, should come with a warning that the reader may succumb to thoughts that large chunks of their life have been wasted.

This is an extraordinary story, simply and beautifully told, of achievement on a significant scale, not only in the author's field of expertise, education, but a level of community involvement that puts many less busy people to shame.

Frank is perhaps most widely known as the indefatigable public face of the Bay of Islands Vintage Railway Trust, but this Far North import - born in Hamilton while his parents were stationed at a mission in the Solomon Islands - made his contribution to his community and country as a teacher, a principal and an educational visionary.

The pity of it is that his generation has all but departed the education system, having done their time or defeated by an increasingly politically correct bureaucracy that many must have found unbearably stifling.

Frank was the principal at Bay of Islands College for 22 years, and it is that period of his life that best portrays how the world has changed.

Who could imagine now organising a game of netball between the college girls and the male teachers? Especially given that one of said teachers was not above executing a rugby-style tackle on one of his female opponents?

Then there were the school excursions into the bush, featuring not only the life and other lessons still to be had today, but against a backdrop of genuinely life-threatening encounters with nature at her least sympathetic. If Frank William Leadley were to arrive on the school scene today with the attitudes and attributes that earned him deep and abiding affection at Bay of Islands College he would be lucky to last a week.

But for all his commitment to his profession and to his community, he achieved what eludes many people today. He struck a very healthy work/life balance, his memories including numerous recreational adventures, invariably told with his trademark humour.

The reader has no trouble imagining him instructing one of his hapless crew, striving to prevent the anchor from sliding overboard in a genuine moment of peril on the sea, to mind the paintwork.

The whole story - from his early years as the child of missionaries to teacher training, wooing of Vanessa, and his tenure at Bay of Islands College to the life he now enjoys, his pride and affection as a father and grandfather and the travels he and Vanessa now enjoy in their retirement, bears testimony to what one man of boundless energy and work ethic can achieve.

One cannot help but wonder how different the world might now be if such a man had had the opportunity to influence the evolution that has led to what we now endure, a world where calculated (and even uncalculated) risk and the benefits to be gained from that have been superseded by safety at all costs and in every sense.

One wonders too what has become of the humour that was obviously a key ingredient in his career and his life in general. Perhaps that too has been sucked out of us, in the interests of no harm ever befalling anyone under any circumstances.

Frank's career at Bay of Islands College wasn't all beer and skittles, of course. No life ever is. And while his humour is never far from the surface, the trials and tribulations of childhood, parenthood and his efforts to ensure that the young people for in whom he has undisguised affection and faith had every opportunity he could give them must often have weighed as heavy upon him as they do on everyone else.

But even in the tough times he had a contribution to make. If one small component of this book should be read above all others it is the poem written by one of his BOI College students, who, sadly, wished to remain anonymous, as a eulogy to a much-loved groundsman. Frank does not take credit for the poem, of course, but this extraordinary piece of writing at such a young age surely owes something to the environment he created at the school.

Addressing his final school assembly, he told the students: 'Whaia te Aratika. Tikanga ngana.' Choose the straight path. Work hard.'

Good advice from a very, very good man, one who has always led by example, and who even now, still refusing to act his age, continues to give, give and give some more.

Local memoirs can be hard work sometimes.

This one isn't. This one deserves to be read, again and again.

There currently appear to be no plans for a reprint of Frank Speaking but at last report the author still had a few copies safely stored in a box somewhere. It is available, for $25 plus $5 postage, from frankleadley@xtra.co.nz.

He will even autograph it for you.

You won't regret buying it.

- Northland Age

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