The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1954]
Thomas Alexander Hunter
Thomas Alexander Hunter came to Victoria College in 1904 as lecturer in and head of the Department of Mental Science and Economics. He was appointed Professor of these subjects in 1907. Subsequently other provision was made for the teaching of economics and from 1909 to 1948 he was Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy in the College. In 1938 he was appointed the College's first Principal, an office which he held in conjunction with his Chair until 1947, when he was appointed to the Principalship as a full-time office. He retired from the Principalship at the beginning of 1951. From 1929 to 1947 he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of New Zealand. He died on the 20th April, 1953.
The bare recital of the substantive offices held by Sir Thomas Hunter is impressive enough; but it discloses only a part of his long lifetime of dedicated page 3 enthusiasm, wise practical energy and unselfish labour for every good educational cause. For many years he personified the College, both to those in the University and to the public at large. In the University he was a great reformer and if our University Colleges are now in a fair way to achieving the status of independent universities that is largely due to him. In his time he was one of the main forces behind adult education in New Zealand; behind research in education; behind every attempt to bring education and research to bear on the muddled problems of our social life.
He was a great teacher. One who knew him well has said: "If you had a mind Hunter led you to use it; you could use it against him if you liked, that didn't matter. But you mattered, you were life, you were young, your mind was an individual thing with its individual rights, and he believed in its freedom. He didn't patronise. He really believed in freedom, and a third thing he hated and fought, besides inefficiency and ignorance, was mean and petty inroads on freedom, however and by whomsoever exercised. He hated injustice, and he fought it. I like to reflect that he never lost the faculty of indignation at such things. I saw it in his last days. 'The nobler a man is, the more objects of compassion he hath,' said Lord Bacon. Let's give compassion a wide interpretation, let's make it mean a never-ceasing interest in and care for human beings, and we have a measure of Hunter's spirit. And he had enormous courage."
In recognition of his many public services he was in 1939 created a Knight of the British Empire, and some years later the University showed its appreciation of his eminent work in its sphere by conferring on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature. It was pleasing to his friends that he should be thus publicly recognized, for he was a great man and a great and devoted servant of his country.
"By their fruits ye shall now them." By the fruits of his labours Thomas Alexander Hunter became known to men of goodwill and discernment as one of the noble spirits of his generation. His monument is in the hearts of those whom he taught and influenced and inspired and who in their turn may pass on to others the light they received from him.