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Nelson Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, Issue 5, 2002

John Francis Harrod Savage

page 67

John Francis Harrod Savage

Born Nelson 30 September 1912. Died Nelson 18 August 2002

John Savage, our honoured Patron, a Nelson man with a Nelson name was rightfully proud of his Nelson heritage.

Among the region's many notable attributes, John knew it as being special for its history, and it was his ability and willingness to share his love for this that made him so appropriate and valued as our Patron. He achieved this despite failing eyesight and other health problems which, sadly for the Society, reduced his time in the role to just three years.

John's encyclopaedic mind gave us many an insight into history here, especially relating to his early years. A few follow here:

Dead from diabetes before John turned four, his father yet left an indelible memory by showing him troops marching from drill hall to wharf, on their way to the War.

A year later, living in Collingwood Street with his widowed mother, John would race to the window at the rare sound of a passing car.

At age six he was home from Brook Street School with the dreaded 1918 influenza when, from the same window, he witnessed a funeral procession taking victims to Wakapuaka Cemetery. Led on foot by undertaker Alf Shone, all wore the most sombre black, and black too were the horses' harness and the carriages.

At the school John knew Maurie Alborough who, now in his 90th year, may be the Society's oldest member.

John was nine before his first car ride. It was in a Maxwell with big brass headlamps, the pride of his uncle. John and his mother had travelled by sea in the Kohi to visit Uncle, who had driven from his Ngatimoti farm to Motueka Wharf to collect them.

At age 17 he was in 'Gunner' Johnson's physics class at Nelson College observing an experiment when, at the moment when all were told to 'watch carefully and see the ammeter tick over', the whole wooden laboratory tried to fall over instead. John made safe ground, but on all fours, for he found it impossible to stand in the 7.8 force of the Murchison earthquake.

page 68

With adulthood approaching John was tested for a car licence by officious and feared 'Parky' Parkinson, the City Council's first and unforgettable traffic officer. Parky directed John in Mrs Savage's Baby Austin 7 to take them up Collingwood Street in heavy gravel and on up the steep and slippery slope toward the Grampians track. Then came the trauma of backing down and around the corner into Brougham Street John passed his test.

A natural teacher, John gave most of his working life-time to that profession starting, when uncertificated, at tiny isolated Whangarae School in Croisilles Harbour. It was closed for his first week by a tangi.

Teachers' College and other schools followed, interrupted by war service in Italy until he returned in 1946. For a refresher, he opted for a chance to see the new art syllabus being taught by a specialist by name of Cynthia Hudson. Soon after, as Mrs Savage, Cynthia went on to share with him life, career, and interests such as Nelson Historical Society, which they joined in the late fifties.

It was in the fifties that John taught a now senior member of the Society at Nelson Intermediate School John was well into a lesson when "Oooooh" cried a voice. "What a funny cloud Mr Savage!" John looked out and, without pausing, seized the ideal 'teachable moment' that every teacher dreams of. Thus the first sight of jet aeroplane vapour trails brought scientific enlightenment to many, and is remembered by at least one to this day.

As a committee member for the Society from 1969 to 1994 he was 'always there,' a dependable, willing, contributor. An oral man, not so much given to writing, he could personalise his talks well, and some members recall when he gave a one hour talk on Nelson, which became two, with audience interest unabated.

Two regular visitors to the Savage home – on the exact location of Arthur Wakefield's house overlooking the first harbour entrance – were our longtime members, Ian and Molly Simpson, also highly knowledgeable about Nelson Long and happy were the discussions they had.

When the Society sought a sesquicentennial project, it was John who suggested publication of biographies of the many interesting and achieving Nelsonians who had been researched for the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, but had not been included.

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And so was born Nelson Notables by Max Lash and 14 others, a worthy result indeed. Inspiration for the name is also attributed to John.

Another worthy cause suggested by John is the Jeff Newport Memorial Prize. This aims at encouraging original historical research by secondary school students and is now in its second year, it has been established in memory of our first Patron, Jeff Newport, whose own formal schooling ended at Standard 6 (Form II). Jeff made great efforts to research, record and publish local history and to support the Nelson Historical Society.

John and Cynthia have given much appreciated financial support towards the setting up of the prize, which was dear to John's heart and reflected their abiding interest in the Historical Society, and their identification with its aims.

The Society paid tribute to John at his funeral and expressed our members' sympathy to Cynthia and the family.

John, our old friend and mentor has gone, and will be missed, but he and what he has done for the Society will not be forgotten.

Athol Blair, Immediate Past President

September 2002