Fond farewell for Kapiti principal

Farewell: Kapiti Primary School principal Graham Conner gets a warm farewell from students.
Farewell: Kapiti Primary School principal Graham Conner gets a warm farewell from students.

Kapiti Primary School students won't hear the roar of principal Graham Conner's Ford Falcon XR8 after he retires at the end of this year.

After 22 years at the school, he has decided it is time to move on.

"I'm leaving the school in good heart and I wanted to go before I was 60. I didn't want to be here at 65 on a Zimmer frame, toddling along and people saying 'oh when's that old codger going to go'. I wanted to go out at the top of my game."

A special assembly was held for Mr Conner on Thursday with 22 helium balloons released to signify his years of service at the school.

Mr Conner said he never intended to stay at the school for more than five years.

"At the interview I said to them, 'oh I'm just tracking up through the grades so fast, I'll only stay here five years'. Here I am, 22 years later still in the school. The reason why is it's just a fabulous school, and why would you want to go somewhere else?"

Growing up in Wellington, Mr Conner was more interested in sports than education, playing tennis, badminton and squash, and he learnt gymnastics.

"When I was say 17, 18, 19 I'd be playing sport every day of some sort. And quite a high level. I represented Wellington and the Hutt Valley in badminton for about 10 years at top level, division 1.

"As well as being in those top teams we'd be training each other how to perfect that shot or perfect these tactics and things like that to win at all costs."

He decided to follow his sister to Wellington Training College in 1973, and enjoyed teaching before getting his first principal job in Hawke's Bay.

His first principal role was in a one-teacher school called Maraetotara School, he said.

"I was principal, teacher, bus driver, pool attendant, lawn mower-man, anything else you can think of. That was really cool."

After three years he took a principal position at Atiamuri School, north of Taupo, where he learnt about teaching impoverished children, Mr Conner said.

Two years later he became principal at Maramarua School in North Waikato, which is also a technology provider.

Living in farming areas inspired his interest in farm life, and Mr Conner now owns a five-acre section in Ohau where he breeds highland cattle.

Once he has retired he will be able to focus on his animals, he said.

He will miss the camp trips, staff and children's smiles, but will come back to visit, he said.

"We've had lots of funny things happen over time. You've got to make your own fun in this kind of job. The school's just been fantastic. I mean it's a lovely place on the coast to bring up children and live here yourself."


Five things you might not know about Graham Conner:

He breeds and trains highland cattle.

He is the national secretary and treasurer of the National Cactus and Succulent Society of New Zealand.

He is a keen gardener and has three glass houses with thousands of cacti.

He is treasurer of the Wellington Regional Primary Principals' Association.

He owns a Ford Falcon XR8.

Kapiti Observer