By REBECCA WALSH
Avondale College principal Phil Raffills took his last school assembly this week, announcing his retirement because of ill health.
Mr Raffills, principal at New Zealand's biggest school for 14 years, was diagnosed with leukaemia last year and had been on sick leave.
He will undergo intensive chemotherapy this week before a bone marrow transplant on Monday.
Acting principal Warren Peat said it had been an emotional assembly for students and staff.
"There were not too many dry eyes in the place.
"We talk about the Avondale College family and Phil was really responsible for that family feel. Avondale College is synonymous with the name Phil Raffills and it leaves a huge gap. We have missed him terribly for the last 12 months. The staff are feeling very empty right now."
Mr Raffills has been a controversial and outspoken figure, supporting bulk-funding of teacher salaries and as a right-wing Auckland City councillor he opposed the Hero parade.
Mr Peat said the school had been prepared for Mr Raffills to move on after he stood for Parliament twice, "but for him to leave because of the illness ... is all the more sad."
Mr Raffills would receive bone marrow from his brother Mark.
Mr Peat said the success rate for the operation was very good.
Mr Raffills, who has three months' leave from council duties, could not be reached for comment.
The college would advertise the principal's position both here and overseas.
Mr Peat was sure the spirit instilled by Mr Raffills would remain.
"While Avondale College is Phil Raffills and Phil Raffills is Avondale College, the school has continued in good heart in his absence ... We expect it will do so in the future."
By REBECCA WALSH