Reverend Dr Richard John Spence, 3 February 1941 - 21 September 2016

In the words of his family, Napier's Reverend Dr Richard Spence "completed his pilgrimage" when he died at the age of 75 in late September.

His was a life of devotion to the community and the diversity of that devotion is startling, yet he was always an equally devoted family man.

He was born in Christchurch in 1941 to Rosalie and Bill Spence and raised in Hawke's Bay, which became a place of deep attachment for him.

He attended Napier Central School, Napier Intermediate and Napier Boys' High, where he was dux in 1958.


With a Master of Science (Hons in Mathematics) from Victoria University and a post-graduate Bachelor of Education gained during secondary teacher training in Auckland, he held a Junior Lectureship in mathematics before joining Colenso High School in 1964 to teach mathematics and physics.

He co-wrote The Shape of Mathematics, a best seller that reshaped the teaching of mathematics during the 1970s. Seeking his adult education skills, Massey University appointed him lecturer-in-charge university extension, and later senior lecturer in business information systems.

Pioneering research in the developing field of computer education gained him a PhD in 1976, with his publications creating a foundation for the mainstreaming of computer science in New Zealand education.

Visiting fellowships included China, USA and France.

Returning to Colenso High School to lead computer education for another seven years, Dr Spence furthered his skills in software development and information processing to a point where his specialist IT knowledge was in high demand.

As corporate services manager for the Napier City Council, he developed the computerisation of the Napier Library.

He left that role in 1989 to work on signature projects for various agencies, including Richmond Meats, Enza International, Land Transport Safety Authority, Computerland Hawkes Bay, Link Technologies, Heinz-Wattie, Parliamentary Services Hansard Project, Inland Revenue Department, Infoscan Ltd, Bell Gully, Energy Efficiency & Conservation Authority, and the New Zealand Qualifications Authority.

He authored 13 books, published articles in 10 journals, and produced 11 conference papers, 3 occasional papers and 7 e-publications.

Following intensive preparation and study, coupled with a solo pilgrimage walk of 800 kilometres on the Camino to Santiago de Compostela, Dr Spence was ordained an Anglican self-supporting "worker" priest in 1995, ministering to Māori in the Rohe Te Matau a Maui, Tai Rawhiti, in the workplace, on the marae, in people's homes, in the churches, at the graveside, using English or te reo.

As a tribute to his mentor he part-authored a biography of Canon Wi Te Tau Huata entitled Whakaaria Mai.

His service to the Pākehā Anglican Church included time as chairman of the Board of Diocesan Trustees, acting chief executive officer of Waiapu Anglican Social Services Trust in 2013, and priest associate in Taradale (1996-2001), Miramar (2002-2005) and Waiapu Cathedral (2006-2011).

He was also treasurer to the Oceania Council of the Mission to Seafarers 2010-2013, at the time of his death he held the positions of Diocesan Spiritual Director for the Cursillo Movement and Chaplain to the Mission to Seafarers at the Port of Napier.

His investment in the community was prolific.

Eager to mentor youngsters, he led tramps, coached runners and athletics, adjudicated debates, judged at science fairs, serving on and chairing committees, including a stint as National Science Fair chairman, and National Panel of Judges.

A keen harrier with Napier Harriers and the Hawke's Bay Presbyterian Harrier Club, he represented Hawke's Bay one year in the National Marathon Championship, winning a gold medal in his last 10k race in Wellington in 2011.

While working at Bell Gully 2003-2006 he became Dragon Boating Team manager and rowed in the races.

An enthusiastic scuba diver, he loved the ocean with a passion, the life beneath, and the ships and seafarers who sailed on it.

He was an active Rotarian of 44 years, involved in community projects in Hawke's Bay, Tonga, India, and in Wellington where he served as club president.

His singular commitment to Rotary ideals was rewarded with a Paul Harris Fellowship in 2016.

In later years, self-taught, he played saxophone in the Napier Memorial Technical Band, and volunteered for radio operator duty at the Hawke's Bay Volunteer Coastguard.

He was devoted to his community as he was to his family, and is survived by his wife, Gail, and their sons Andrew, Michael and Paul.