Late on 9 October 2008 at age 82, Glynn Watkins passed away.
Those few words give no hint as to the loss I feel at his passing and the loss I will feel for many years. Glynn, his wife Shirl, and children Peter, David, and Gina, have been close friends of my family for nearly 50 years. Glynn and his family was present at all our major (and many minor) family events, and we were there for many of his family events too. In their retirement, Glynn and Shirl travelled to places near and far with my parents, a ‘habit’ that started when they travelled to New Zealand together for a couple of weeks back in the 1960s, leaving us kids with our respective grandparents.
So why was Glynn such an important person in my life? Other than being a close family friend for nearly 50 years, Glynn was my primary school headmaster (Waroona District High School) for some six years back in the day when the boss of the school was called a ‘Headmaster’ and not a ‘Principal’. Even though I was only very young, Mr Watkins, as we always called him then, was an incredible influence on my life. He showed me what a true educator and teacher was. He was my mentor, a man I looked up to and respected deeply. Unlike many headmasters of the time, Glynn took an interest in both the good kids and the bad—and all those in between. Being called to the Headmaster’s office was not necessarily a fearful time (unless of course, you’d done something wrong!). He would call you in to praise or congratulate you on an achievement, and would come into the classroom to take an active interest in the teaching and learning program. Maybe he was just checking on the new teachers—no matter, it always felt like he was really interested in what we were doing.
Outside school, he was still ‘Mr Watkins’, but I saw him in a more relaxed light, kicking a football with us kids, singing ditties with his good friend Moir (“Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood…” [Flanders and Swann]), enjoying a quiet beer, trying to avoid exposing his lily-white skin to the summer sun in the local swimming holes and dams, and enjoying a laugh. And what a booming and infectious laugh he had.
The year I started high school, Glynn and his family were transferred to Manjimup Senior High School. But the friendship between our two families ran deep, and many happy hours were spent at each others’ places over the school holidays. He became ‘Mr Watty’ to me then.
Years passed and I became a high school teacher. Without realising it at the time, I’m sure that Glynn had a big hand in my belief that teaching was an honourable and worthwhile profession. His sense of fairness and his clearly defined lines between what you could and couldn’t do, became part of my teaching strategy. I hope that I emulated the great teacher he was, even a small way.
Over the years, ‘Mr Watty’ became ‘Glynn’, and I found out how proud he was of my achievements and those of my sister. He had no hesitation in handing out praise, and it was always sincere, never hollow. Even after he had retired from education, I never heard him speak an unkind word about any students he had in his care for so many years.
So who was this Glynn Watkins? The Glynn that the world saw was an incredible man—a gentle man in the truest sense of the word. He was an educator, an innovator, a mentor, a role model. He was incredibly well-respected in education circles, and was given the honour of Principalship of a brand new metropolitan high school where he was able to pick and choose his own staff (this is not something that happens in West Australian government schools, even now). His staff adored him, and, in all my years in government schools, I never heard a bad word about him, even when in the company of teachers who had no clue I knew him well. In 1987, his services to education in Western Australia were honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).
Glynn was a man who was never just an observer of life, never just standing on the sidelines; instead, he grabbed life with both hands and threw himself into everything he did, whether it was education and teaching (a vocation—not just a job—for Glynn), his roses and orchids, his singing, his public speaking, his Lodge and Probus club, his RAAF, and all the other things I’m not even aware of.
Most importantly though, Glynn was a family man who willingly made time for family and friends, no matter how busy he was. He loved Shirl deeply and profoundly, and they were true soulmates for more than 50 years of marriage. He loved his kids and grandkids with a passion and was incredibly proud of them. He delighted in sharing stories of their lives. And boy, could Glynn tell a story!
He was a superb raconteur, with a razor-sharp wit. He could grab hold of a room with the power and projection of his deep voice, then keep everyone enraptured and laughing for hours on end, just as he did even on his 80th birthday. Yet he was never egotistical about his abilities and never jumped up to take a microphone just because it was there. And it wasn’t just his speaking voice—those Welsh genes of his were an asset to the Perth Male Voice Choir.
Glynn, you were a man among men. A role model, a mentor, and a friend. If I was able to have two Dads, you would have been my second one. You will be deeply missed by those who had the honour and pleasure of being touched by your wit and humour, your compassion, and your friendship. This State has lost one of its true educators, and a great man.
To paraphrase the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan, Glynn was the “…very model of a modern Major-General.”
My deepest sympathy goes to Shirl, to Peter and David (my childhood ‘brothers’), to my ‘little sister’ Gina, and all your families.