The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1948
Harry Borrer Kirk
'Let its now praise famous men,
Men of little showing,
For their work continueth,
And their work continueth,
Broad and deep continueth,
Great beyond their knowing.'
When Professor Kirk ended his long and faithful service to Victoria University College in 1945 a tribute to the man and his work was printed in Spike. Today he has passed into the land of memory. There is a space left in the lives of his old students and his old friends, a void for one missing—one not to be forgotten.
Professor Kirk died at the Waikato Hospital at 10 p.m. on Thursday, the 15th July 1948, in his 90th year. He had been transferred from Tauranga to Hamilton with a leg fracture on the somewhat desperate hope of saving his life by operation; an operation which, in the event, could not be attempted. He had expressed the wish that his body should be cremated, that the only ceremony should consist of a few words spoken by an old friend—and he had named Sir Thomas Hunter. Unhappily Sir Thomas was prevented from fulfilling that wish and the honour fell upon my shoulders. So it happened that old friends wrote to tell me of their sorrow and their relief, relief that the suffering had ended quickly, sorrow at 'the hole it makes in a man's life. It seems fitting that some of these tributes should be set down because they come, as he would have wished, from the very heart. 'He was one of the rocks of this College,' wrote a colleague. 'In all the fighting for principle one never needed to think where Kirk would be—a perfect Knight.'
Again: 'When you told me of Kirk's death, two verses jumped to my mind——one from Edwin Markham:
'Here in the paths of every day,
Here in the common human way
Is all the stuff the Gods would take'.
To build a heaven, to mould and make
New Edens. Ours the stuff sublime
To build eternity in time.
Not for many men but, yes, for Harry Borrer Kirk.
The other was from Edward Tregear:
'A coffin verse for me? But I defy
The powers of earth to bury me!
Bury my carrion deep, but I shall be
The lark's song flooding from the vault on high,
The scent of violets when spring is nigh,
The fire-cloud flaming in the sunset sky,
The thunders of the breakers of the sea.'
We are all the poorer and the old gang that hoped to march, however falteringly, to Victoria University College next May, has lost a standard bearer.'
'He had to build the Faculty of Biology from very small beginnings,' said another, and he was able to inspire his students not only with the love of knowledge, but with his own gentleness and loving kindness. Wisdom, so much more to be desired than gold, was to him more than knowledge. His integrity of spirit was his legacy to his Department and to the College. No one has given more than he to Victoria University College, and no one has been more richly rewarded in understanding and affection.'
In 1945 we were warned against a judgment based purely upon his sense of fun and his delight in story-telling. 'Nor have I,' the paragraph ends, 'a more lasting impression of him than that of grave and punctilious courtesy, a courtesy which enriched the young and delighted the old.' This note was echoed again as his body was committed to the elements.
'I speak today for many thousands of those throughout New Zealand who loved him, for his old students, for all who, especially at the beginning of his work at Victoria University College, came under the spell of a great teacher and a great and generous spirit. His greatness and simplicity were reflected in that noble courtesy which belonged to the pioners:
"But most their desert Camelot
They filled with Knightly rays
Of gentleness and courtesy
Which fill for us our days."'
There is little space to say more. Possibly page 19 he would like his old friends most to remember the days in the military camps when he proved so conclusively that science can and should be enlisted for the purposes of our common life and the Professor could and should be a man of action. This innocent Professor was able to defy and outwit even rooted custom and military routine. Those, with the first days of struggle and of achievement, were the great days, the days of expedients and makeshifts and of derring-do.
No one will be surprised to know that to the end he exhibited all those qualities of endurance, of generosity, of self-effacement and even of humour which had been so lovably characteristic throughout his long life. He gave to others everything he had, asking only that he should be no burden to his friends.
He had been a 'burgher of a great city He had obeyed the Laws of the Corporation' and he left the stage as fairly ' as a player does 'who has his discharge from the master of the Revels'.
Our land of memory has been enriched and ennobled.