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Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 41, September 1997

HERBERT LEA TOWERS, B.Sc., M.B.E., O.B.E.1899 - 1994

By Gordon Mathieson

(A brief obituary appeared in the Journal in 1994 but further details pertaining to Mr Tower's life have been obtained and are recorded in this article, to complete the historical record.)

The death in Auckland on 28 January 1994 of Mr Herbert Towers, at the age of 94 years removed a tangible link with the history of Mt. Albert Grammar School and with Paeroa.

Born in Rye Lane (now Towers Street), Paeroa on 13 March 1899, Herbert Towers was the eldest of the seven children of William John Towers and Louisa May Towers (nee Stevens). He had four brothers, Ivan, Vern, Jeff, and Rex and two sisters Gwen and Dorothy.

His father was born in Thames in 1868, and having learnt the painting and decorating trade, moved to Paeroa in 1896, where two years later, he married. His business flourished to such an extent, that he established branches in Waihi and Te Aroha. William Towers was a member of the 'Borough Movement Association', which voted to secede from the Ohinemuri County Council, to form the Paeroa Borough Council. This took effect from 1 July 1915, William Towers being elected unopposed, Paeroa's first Mayor, holding office until April 1919. Later Rye Lane was renamed Towers Street, recognising his contribution to the town. He died on 12 November 1942 aged 74 years and Mrs Towers on 6 January 1944 aged 68.

Herbie Towers attended Paeroa District High School, in Wood Street, from 1904 to 1912, his last year there in the Secondary Department. At age 13 he gained a scholarship which admitted him to Auckland Grammar School (1913-1916) then to Auckland University College, graduating with a B.Sc. degree. His first teaching position was at King's College, Otahuhu, then when Mt Albert Grammar School opened in 1922, he joined the foundation staff.

His contribution to the life of that school constituted a remarkable achievement when it is remembered that his teaching service alone, totalled 57 years, becoming Head of the Mathematics Department and subsequently Deputy Headmaster, retiring in 1979, aged 80.

His other associations included being the organiser of the school's first athletics championships in 1923; originator of Auckland Secondary Schools' Athletics and a lifetime of service to athletics in general. These earned him life membership of the New Zealand Amateur Athletics Association. He was also awarded the M.B.E. in 1963 and the O.B.E. in 1977.

Of the many thousands of pupils Mr Towers taught through the years, these names stand out through their prowess in athletics: Arthur Lydiard, Peter Snell, Rex Maddaford, Greg Denholm, Tony Ashton and Michael Mackay. Perhaps Mr Towers' most prominent pupil was the late Sir Robert Muldoon (1921-1992) - National party M.P. for Tamaki (1960-1991) and Prime Minister of New Zealand (1975-84). Rob Muldoon attended Mt. Albert Grammar during 1933-36.

Paeroa College's fourth Principal, Mr I S Kerr, B.Sc. (1923-1989) was also a pupil of Mr Towers in the late 1930s. (See article 'Principals of Paeroa College' in Journal 35 - 1991.)

An extract from Herbert Towers' obituary in the New Zealand Herald reads as follows:

"A Master at Mt. Albert Grammar from 1922 to 1979. An inspirational teacher of Mathematics and a leader to generations of young men, inside and outside the classroom, he served his school and the wider community with distinction. A foundation member of the staff, he went on to hold the positions of first housemaster in 1927, head of the Mathematics Department, and Deputy Headmaster."

A further extract reads:

"Remembered by all old boys with affection and respect, and in appreciation for his interest in and contribution to the school. Herbie was an example and inspiration to excel both in the classroom and in sporting endeavour, a link between generations of pupils, he had a phenomenal memory, knowing each pupil by name, and his homework was notoriously difficult and time consuming. Herbie is an integral part of the school's history and character."

"Per angusta ad augusta."

That Herbie Towers was the doyen of Mt. Albert Grammar goes without saying. And to ensure that the link was not severed, he and his wife, Linda Towers, continued to live at 99 Mt. Albert Road where he had lived since 1930, within sight of the school he had served for so long.

Mrs Towers died on 28 May 1997, aged 97. She was survived by her son John, six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.