Obituary Nigel Arthur Holloway Creese, AM

“A gentleman, and a gentle man”.

Nigel Creese, AM, died on 29th August 2018, at home, as he had wished.

Nigel liked people. He also liked organisation. These two qualities lay behind all his private and public relationships and career.

The schoolboy who won a scholarship to Blundell’s School, Tiverton, UK, had the good fortune at a young age to share a study with Stephen Gorton, whose father, later Bishop Gorton, had a significant influence on his teenage life, introducing him to the Lake District. Nigel CreeseThis was a far cry from his birthplace, London, Hounslow, and embedded him with a love of hills, lakes and countryside, along with a full sense of Christian values. Nigel’s father, badly wounded in WWI, had died when he was 14, and his mother left his education largely to the influence of Blundell’s. Military service took him to Palestine, where he recorded that he and his Sergeant in the RAF regiment flew the last British flag in Jerusalem. It was here where he encountered his first experiences with war, and terrorism, of which he very rarely spoke. After three years in the RAF he went up to Brasenose College Oxford in 1948. He studied ‘Greats’ (Latin, Ancient Greek and Ancient History) and much enjoyed Oxford life. A member of Vincent’s Club, President of the JCR, he gained Blues in both Rugby Football and Swimming, took the lead in several plays and met Val, whom he married in July 1951. (A month prior to his death they celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary).

Rugby football tours took him to the South of France, to Africa (where he captained the combined Oxford/Cambridge side) and, controversially at the time, to Japan. He was even a Reserve for the England trials. As a ‘Blue’ he quickly found a teaching job at Bromsgrove School, Worcestershire, at the same time captaining Moseley Football Club for four years, to two premierships. Out of the blue, in 1955, a neighbour remarked that Rugby School was looking for a young schoolmaster – she unearthed ‘The Times’ from the dustbin, he applied and got the job!

Nigel and Val had happy years at Rugby, making good friends and enjoying all the school activities. Nigel took to producing plays with great success and acting in the staff plays; he also ran the Rugby football and the gliding club. He was always an excellent and natural teacher, making sense of Latin to the many to whom it was incomprehensible.

This teaching career was to lead subsequently to becoming Headmaster of Christ’s College, New Zealand, in 1963 at the young age of 35 – a huge leap professionally for Nigel and personally for the family (Nigel and Val, four children and Val’s formidable mother). Life in Christchurch was as delightful as it was unforgettable. The family loved the School, the community and the city.

His time at Christ’s College was deeply formative. He threw himself into his new role – teaching 24 periods a week, trying to get to know all the boys, marking essays, speaking on radio and television and at Old Boys’ events, breakfasting in the Dining Hall, and working very hard to meet the demands of the Appeal to pay for the Assembly Hall.
In College – a History of Christ’s College, Don Hamilton describes him as “an impressive figure as he swept across the Quad with his head up and his gown billowing behind him.” He was much loved and admired by most boys. Indeed, as one student recounts:

It was, I think, both of our misfortunes that I ended up in 4A and 5B Latin, his because he wasted so much time and effort trying to install the basics and mine because for the first time in my life I came across either an irresistible force or an immoveable object, neither of which were pleasant. Despite this I developed a great affection and utmost respect for him as he always treated me fairly, courteously and consistently.
He taught me so much, to think before you speak, to treat people as you would like to be treated, to have good values and hang on to them in the face of change. The value of good manners and respect. Never be afraid to tell the truth. Teachers are human.

Nigel and Val had always planned to return to the UK but that wasn’t to be. In 1970 Nigel was appointed Headmaster of Melbourne Grammar School where he remained until his retirement at the end of 1987. In his years at MGS he made an enormous and varied contribution to Australian education. The 1970s were a difficult period in which to take on school leadership - unrest in society due to the Vietnam War and changes to tertiary education created complex challenges. The School notes that Nigel took on these challenges with uncommon intelligence, vision and patience, and a tremendous determination to succeed, also with integrity, diplomacy and a continual search for excellence.

It was under Nigel’s leadership that girls entered Grimwade House, that the Robert Knox camp at Woodend was established and curriculum innovations in numerous disciplines occurred. He reorganised Grimwade House and Wadhurst, creating the framework for the structure of the school that still exists today, and proactively sought to employ more female teachers at the School. Together with Free Strickland he created the Grammar Foundation and many building campaigns, and buildings, ensued.

Nigel chose never to lose contact with the boys, working with them directly through establishing the Quad Play and directing annual productions, teaching Latin, coaching Rugby, giving scripture lessons and all those sermons in Chapel, even bringing the individual boy or two to live with the family in Domain Street when occasion required. His school reports, handwritten for every boy in the senior school, were signed with the immediately recognisable ‘NAHC’ and reflected on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses with encouragement. Many tributes have flowed remarking on his fairness, humour and values. He was certainly a great man for many.

In retirement Nigel took on other responsibilities and interests. Following his period in 1985-7 as first National Chair of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia (AHISA), having played a pivotal role in its establishment, he became its inaugural part time Executive Officer. He acted as interim Head at Beaconhills Christian College; served on the Board of several schools, including Lauriston Girls’ School (where he was instrumental in the establishment of the Howqua campus), was Chairman of Christ Church Grammar School for 9 years, and Chairman of the GAP Scheme in Australia (now known as Lattitude). He taught Latin and scripture at Fitzroy Community School; volunteered with Lifeline, and with U3A (teaching Latin of course and running drama groups); as well as starting a bridge group at the local Neighbourhood House. For recreation he strode the hills around his beloved holiday house at Howqua.

Nigel held a sincere and active Christian faith and was a regular parishioner at Holy Trinity Kew where he was well known amongst the “8am-ers” most Sundays. He did not speak of his faith but it sustained him throughout. He was well-known and well-liked in the many things he did so unselfishly within ‘his’ schools and the broader community. He will not easily be forgotten.

Val Creese, and family members
With thanks to James Aitken, Christ’s College, Melbourne Grammar School and AHISA