By ARNOLD PICKMERE
Politician. Died in Auckland, aged 62.
Mervyn Langlois Wellington, a former Minister of Education, was one of the staunchest supporters of Sir Robert Muldoon, even after his leader had lost the Prime Ministership and then the leadership of the National Party.
His reasoning was straightforward - Robert Muldoon's vigorous campaign and victory in 1975 had given Wellington his chance in politics and the chance to be Minister of Education from 1978-84.
His loyalty went way beyond the snap election which Muldoon lost in July 1984. The former Prime Minister was elbowed aside by Jim McLay as Leader of the Opposition. By November 1985 McLay decided to nullify Muldoon's continuing influence by moving his former leader to the most junior backbench opposition seats in Parliament. Wellington went with him.
The Prime Minister David Lange and Mike Moore took some delight in using a pair of binoculars from the Government front benches to observe the National pair taking their new seats for the first time.
It was not long before McLay discovered that having his former leader as far removed in the Parliament as possible failed to cramp his style elsewhere. In Merv Wellington's Papakura electorate, only three days later, a crowd of more than 800 mostly middle-aged or senior National Party members paid $5 a head to hear Muldoon and Wellington attack the Labour Government.
By the time Jim Bolger had assumed the National leadership, Wellington had managed to ponder aloud such still popular National Party manoeuvres as possibly standing as a National Independent (which might have meant likely banishment from the National caucus), or retiring from Parliament. Both Muldoon and Wellington found themselves back in the Opposition front ranks with spokesmanship duties.
As a Minister of Education, Wellington had a difficult task in a time of falling schools rolls and subsequent reduction of teacher college spaces. The former secondary school teacher and Methodist lay preacher, who entered Parliament for Manurewa at 35, could be a man of determined views on some subjects, including resisting sex education in schools
"There are matters which can only be seen in black and white terms," he told the Herald in 1984. "Subjects that allow no room for doubt, fuzzy thinking or middle ground."
People whose views he shared found him charming. Others were inclined to judge him dismissive, or unwilling to debate a topic. His parliamentary opponent Russell Marshall called him an "educational Luddite".
"I know [he] says 'yes' to all the proposed changes," Wellington responded. "But I don't think you give way to the latest fad or whim - not when you are talking about children."
Perhaps an irony of his political career is that most may remember him for his 1984 determination - not well received - to make it mandatory for the New Zealand flag to be flown in every state school. He wanted to revive the wartime practice of raising the flag each day to foster greater national pride. His ambition perished in the snap election defeat the same year.
Mervyn Wellington, who had struggled with illness in recent years, was educated at New Plymouth Boys High and the University of Auckland (BA). He was MP for Manurewa from 1975 to 78 and for Papakura from 1978 to 1990. He is survived by his wife Helen, daughters Sandra, Vicki and Janet and grandchildren. A memorial service will he held in St Marks Church, Remuera on Tuesday September 23 at 11am.