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The Spike or Victoria College Review 1946

Professor Sir Thomas Alexander Hunter — K.B.E., M.A., M.Sc

Professor Sir Thomas Alexander Hunter

K.B.E., M.A., M.Sc.

This year Sir Thomas Hunter, Professor of Philosophy and Principal of the College, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New Zealand, has attained the seventieth year of his age. He came to the College in the year 1904, so that he has to his credit 42 years of unbroken service. Those who have been associated with him during his period are seizing the opportunity of making him a present—the present of a book commemorating a service which one is tempted to describe both as extraordinary and unique. This is not the place nor the time for a detailed record of that service but the occasion affords an opportunity for same who have known the nature and quality of the man to say something of the uniqueness and the greatness.

There are those whose first memories of the new Lecturer of 1904 go back to the football field. There was no one so sure in a high wind, no one more deadly in the tackle nor swifter in turning defence into attack. It does not fall to every Professor to captain the First Fifteen, nor to win an average of 21.5 in the second Eleven. At football it was his speed of thought and action, his sportsman-ship and his high courage which left such a mark upon his generation. Those who played beside him will never fail in respect and affection. It must be added, because it was so characteristic, that when an accident removed him from the playing ranks, he continued his fight for clean and amateur football upon the Rugby Union. As one of the Administrators of the New Zealand Tennis Association he had a great part in bringing the Davis Cup matches to New Zealand. It is quite possible the Victoria College Gymnasium would not have been built without his loyalty—and guile.

The University Reform Movement in this Country had its home at Victoria College. In those days there was no Academic Board and there were no internal examinations. Professors Laby, Picken, von Zedlitz and Hunter led the van with Hugh Mackenzie and Rankine Brown steadying the pack. It was a page 24 great fight and, in the end, a battle of giants—Sir Robert Stout against Thomas Alexander Hunter. Never was "Tommy" seen to better advantage. His speed, his energy, his resourcefulness and his good temper were amazing—but, above all—there was an unfailing memory for fact, with corresponding reverence for principle.

He went to the New Zealand University Senate in 1912 so that he has held his place a very unique place—for 34 years. In his first year he was regarded by that august and conservative body as a radical and even as an iconoclast. He was there, as always, the stout, the tenacious and the unrelenting fighter. By one of the strangest and slowest of legislative processes his views have triumphed, not so much on theory or principle, but by reason of practical necessity. In the fulness of time (1929) when the Senate was driven to appoint a University administrator there was only one man with all the qualifications. No one man had such a grasp of the Statutes, of the history of the legislation, of the practice which had grown up, and no one was so apt in applying principle to fact. The business of the Senate is, in general, presented by the Vice Chancellor and it had not yet occurred that the summary of fact presented by Sir Thomas Hunter has been for one moment doubted. He is sure, accurate and concise—trusted by everyone. There is not the same unanimity concerning his opinions.

It is not proposed here to say anything about his term as Chairman of the Professorial Board and Principal of the College. This period is better known and, though it has lasted for more than a quarter of a century, more recent. Neither is it proposed to speak of his service as Chairman of the Board of Governors of Massey College. There are other activities less widely known, but not less distinguished, with which his name may well be linked. His service to the Adult Education Movement over many years has been conspicuous. From the very beginning his help was available to the citizens of Wellington for any educational enterprise. His work in opposition to the periodic onslaughts upon our free, compulsory and secular system of such institutions as the Bible-in-Schools League has been colossal and brilliant. Parliamentary Paper I—13B 1914 is a monument to his enthusiasm, his forensic acumen and his indomitable courage. The names of A. R. Atkinson, Hugh Mackenzie, and, above all, T. A. Hunter, should hold an honoured place in any scroll of educational fame for this service alone. It is worth recording that when Sir Thomas was elected an Associate of the Rationalist Press Association, he was preceded in that extraordinarily distinguished list by only two other New Zealand names—those of Sir Robert Stout and the Honourable John Ballance, both Prime Ministers. It was on this platform that the two arch-freinds and arch-enemies, Sir Robert Stout and Sir Thomas Hunter, met on common ground, and, one may think, with the highest honour. Both men, in a Presbyterian Otago of 60 and 70 years ago, without counting the cost, fought for that freedom of thought and speech to which we have now attained. They faced, and stood four-square against the forces of social reaction and persecution, and they did it, both of them without rancour and without hate. "Sapere Aude" was the motto of both.

F. A. de la Mare