Sir John Graham died last night in Auckland, aged 82.

The former All Blacks captain and educationalist, highly respected for his work as principal of Auckland Grammar School from 1973-93 and as commissioner of the troubled Nga Tapuwae College, led a full life of high achievement.

Born in the Taranaki town of Stratford, he attended New Plymouth Boys' High School before heading to Auckland, where he won three straight Gallaher Shields for University from 1955-57.

By 1958 he was teaching at Christchurch Boys' High School, when he first cracked the All Blacks as a light but accurate loose forward. His 53-match, 22-test All Blacks career stretched to 1964, when he briefly stepped into Wilson Whineray's shoes as test skipper.

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A man of principle, he was said to have been appalled by what he had seen on the 1960 All Blacks' tour of South Africa, and thus boycotted the 1981 Springboks tour matches.

As a rugby coach, pundit and radio commentator, Graham was often outspoken but always astute. He had two stints as the assistant coach of Auckland, the first in the 1970s and then in the last days of the amateur era with his old pupil and teaching colleague Graham Henry.

His post-Auckland Grammar CV was full and impressive, and included being voted New Zealander of the Year by North and South magazine, along with his tenure as Chancellor of the University of Auckland.

He was the Black Caps' manager for several years, helping drive higher standards in a talented but wayward group. In 2004 he was made President of the New Zealand Rugby Union and in 2009 took the Steinlager Salver for outstanding service to the game. His CBE honour in 1994 for services to education and the community was augmented in 2011 by a knighthood.

Only a few years ago he was made patron of his Auckland University club, and in one after-match function gave a superb speech on the virtues of club rugby. Graham had battled cancer in recent years, but still enjoyed getting down to his old club to watch his team and watched the live stream of their Gallaher Shield final victory last Saturday.

His brothers also had distinguished careers. Jim was a knight, for services to the dairy industry and played for Waikato; and Bob was a captain of Auckland who was considered unlucky not to be an All Black.

"Sir John's passion for quality education saw decades of his life committed to the education sector. His role as the 9th headmaster of Auckland Grammar School from January 1973 to May 1993, was defining," Auckland Grammar School said.

"We are grateful for Sir John's connection and continued contributions to Auckland Grammar School until the day of his passing."