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The Spike or Victoria University College Review 1945

Professor John Rankine Brown

page 13

Professor John Rankine Brown

When John Rankine Brown steps off his rostrum for the last time, Victoria College will do more than part with a distinguished and greatly loved Professor of Classics; it will part with an era. For he is the last of the Foundation Professors who, forty-six years ago, left Great Britain to carry the light of their leaning to the College just then established in Wellington.

The late Sir Robert Stout, when Chancellor of the New Zealand University, used to be fond of saying that if one had a learned Professor at one end of a log and an eager student at the other end, one would have a University. There were more than a log and one student to welcome Professor Brown, but the dim and murky passages, and the poorly lighted classrooms of the Girls' High School in Pipitea Street, occupied during the day by the flapperdom of the time, afforded but poor amenities and scant source of inspiration to one fresh from the atmosphere and surroundings of an English or Scottish University. These drawbacks, however, did not in any way discourage our Foundation Professors, and it is with this background that Professor Brown's older students will always delight to remember him.

There were many compensations. In those days, when the number of students was small, a much closer relationship was possible between Professor and student than today, with its large, and often unwieldy, classes. The result was that we learnt to know the true value of the man as well as that of the Professor. In both categories Professor Brown obtained the highest marks, much higher than he was, with true Scottish caution, wont to bestow on his aspiring students for their La in proses or their term examinations. In all he did, he set a very high standard for himself; he expected it from his students.

Nor was it true to say, as an early Capping Song did say, that "His sole delight's Ciceronian prose." He took a great interest and a very live part in everything that went on in the College. Few dances, few socials (which included euchre parties), and few debates, took place without his being present, and entering into the fun. It is on record that, as a "barracker," he accompanied the Victoria Team to Christchurch for the first Easter University Tournament. The words of the College Song are his.

Among the academic distinctions attained by him during his tenure of the Chair of Classics, he numbered the doctorate conferred on him by his old University of St. Andrews in 1927, and the Vice-Chancellorship of the University of New Zealand. His energy and versatility were already in evidence in his earliest days here, when, in addition to his Chair of Classics, he undertook the lectureship in French.

As representative of the feelings cherished towards Professor Brown by his old students, perhaps I may be permitted to quote from a letter from Dr. Diamond Jenness, one of his "star" students, now head of the Anthropological Section, Victoria Museum, Ottawa, with page 14 a sideline in Eskimoes. Written on the occasion of the presentation of the portraits of the Foundation Professors, in 1934, this letter concludes an appreciation of Professor Brown thus:—

"Thirty years have gone by since then, and I can still see him in his class-room, lifting us over some grammatical stumbling block or illustrating Greek and Roman history by parallels from modern times. His scholarship was as deep as his manner was unassuming, and his kindness and patience were inexhaustible. Every student who needed advice or help unconsciously took the road to his study. Sometimes we may not have appreciated his scholarship, or we may have taken too much for granted his kindliness and the unsparing inroads he allowed us to make on his leisure; but what we never failed to perceive was a deep wisdom that made him our infallible guide. Though some of us have travelled far since those years, our happiest memories linger round the days when we sat at his feet."

Literally thousands of students have attended his classes, very many have become his close personal friends, all will remember him with high regard, and above all, with real affection. They will extend to him their sincerest good wishes for his retirement, into which he will take, they hope, also happy memories of his association with Victoria College and with them.