The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 6 (September 1, 1936)
Mr. Sullivan is a deeply educated man, whose knowledge was gained in the school of humanity — an education all the more profound, perhaps, because it lacked the academic schooling of the colleges. He began life under a handicap. Of humble parentage and as a member of a large family in Christchurch city, to whom the struggle for existence was an everyday reality, he missed the joyous carefree life that boys should normally have in a country like this. His father was a hard-working Irishman, his mother a Scotswoman of sterling character. They gave him a sturdy, wholesome selfreliant upbringing. Necessity made him a man while he was scarcely out of his teens. At the Marist Brothers’ school in Christchurch, where he received all his school education, he was an exceptionally bright pupil, passing the sixth standard at the age of eleven. But during his schooling, from week to week, he proudly delivered to a grateful and loving mother the pence earned by selling newspapers in the streets of his native city, of which he was destined to be the first and mosthonoured citizen. Of all his achievements since the passing of those boyhood days none is worthy of higher tribute than that spirit of affectionate comradeship which existed between him, his mother and his father while life remained with them. Indeed, the secret of the success of his career is due in a large measure to the character moulded from the courage of heart and warmth of soul he displayed in those early years of his life.
Even during his school life, his live, social instincts were manifested in an intense interest in history, more particularly in its social aspects. From school he went to work at market gardening for a year, and was then apprenticed to the French-polishing trade at the age of thirteen. Unlike so many youths, his education did not finish with the completion of his schooling; indeed, it only then began. He read so assiduously that he was often seen going to and from his work with his eyes glued to a book of history. He read everything, and became particularly well-versed in the lives of the great philosophers, statesmen, explorers and scientists from Roman times onwards. To-day there are few men so deeply versed in the story of human understanding, attainment and achievement. His life has been moulded largely by that profound, self-directed study.