The 57-year association and, indeed, friendship of two knights, John 'DJ' Graham and Graham Henry, did not kick off on the most auspicious of terms.

The year was 1960 and Graham, a Stratford-born current All Black, was teaching third-former Henry social studies at Christchurch Boys' High School.

"He caned me. It still hurts. I talked to him the other day. He told me it was because I didn't do my homework, which is right and proper," quipped the 2004-11 All Blacks coach, reacting to the news of the passing, on Wednesday night, of his old mentor.

The duo crossed paths again when Graham was coaching Henry's HSOB club side.

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"Then he gave me the most important phone call of my life and said there was a job going at Auckland Grammar. I think that was in the middle of 1973 and I ended up teaching there for nine years," says Henry. He took the First XV from 1975-80 and you can imagine having the school's headmaster and former All Blacks captain as your sounding board.

The debates would have been long and forthright.

"He had opinions. I don't know if he was always right, but we'd always have good arguments, which were enjoyable,' Henry says.

Graham felt the 1980 First XV, skippered by Grant Fox, was the best he had seen during his time. Henry preferred the class of 1976, led by the late John Drake. Two great sides in the annals of Auckland First XV rugby.

After a decade of friendly rivalry as respective headmasters at Auckland Grammar and Kelston BHS, the pair reunited with the fine Auckland team of 1992-94, Graham as the forwards coach. He had previously helped Eric Boggs with the 1974-76 Auckland side and was often the expert comments man on live radio with Rocky Patterson through the 1980s. The 1992-94 Aucklanders won two NPCs and Graham the respect of the group.

"There was no grey area, no bullshit, no camouflage," says Henry. "But he had the ability to connect with them, so that's half the battle."

Graham spent most of his career connecting with people, helping them become better people. His time as the Black Caps manager highlighted that, taking a difficult but talented outfit to a 1999 series victory in England. He did sterling work as commissioner at the ailing Nga Tapuwae College in south Auckland, and he had a distinguished stint as Chancellor of the University of Auckland.

At the time of his death, from cancer, he was the patron of the Auckland Cricket Association, the Auckland University Rugby Club and the John Drake Memorial Scholarship. The latter combined two of his passions, rugby and education. One of those John Drake scholars was Mitch Karpik, one of, unsurprisingly, three flankers to claim the DJ Graham Award for the MVP of the Jock Hobbs Memorial national Under 19 tournament since 2014.

As a player, Graham scored a prolific 42 first-class tries, including 11 for the All Blacks in his 53 games (22 tests). That was indicative of a smart, resourceful player.

"He was brave, he wasn't big. He was probably an 85kg No 7 with headgear. He ran the right lines, so that's why he scored a lot of tries, being in the right place at the right time,' says Henry.

Graham was a strong advocate of club rugby and those who were there will always recall his superb speech on the virtues of that level of the game to an after-match function after he was made patron of his beloved University club. The game today needs a firm reminder of some of Graham's old school ethos.

He had won three straight Gallaher Shields from 1955-57 soon after leaving school and came back to those roots in recent years, often driven to Colin Maiden Park by his old mate, the former referee Bill Price.

Henry still appreciated the support of his old friend when he went through the dark days after Rugby World Cup 2007.

"He respected my ability to coach rugby, which was very nice, and was prepared to express it."

New Zealand Rugby paid tribute to Graham, president of the union in 2005-06, through chief executive Steve Tew.

"DJ was a great allround New Zealander. From his exploits on the rugby field to those in the classroom he was simply exceptional, and we extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Sheila and the rest of his family.

"DJ was a person I feel extremely privileged to have met. He was a leader in every endeavour he turned to, and his long list of honours and achievements are testaments to his exceptional character."

*The Auckland Grammar First XV will remember Graham with black armbands in Saturday's match against Liston, as will all premier sports teams from the school.