School certain to miss Ray's ways

Once a salty blond, now a stately gray

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2013
Ray Priest
ANDY JACKSON/ Fairfax NZ

RAY'S DAY: As much part of the school as the jungle gym and tennis courts, after 27 years at Oakura School deputy principal Ray Priest is retiring. His early plans include a focus on surfing.

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Since arriving at Oakura School in 1987 the only noticeable change in deputy principal Ray Priest is the colour of his beard.

Once a salty blond, it is now a stately gray.

Forever Mr Priest to his students, Happy to his friends and Ray to his mum, the influential teacher is putting away his guitar, his song sheets and retiring from the school so defined by his spirit and enthusiasm for the better part of three decades.

"There are mixed feelings. There are a lot of things I will remember, but I'm just like the kids. When you look back you remember the camps and the school productions. Not many remember the maths lessons, the writing. They remember the camps and the productions."

As the pithy script writer, producer and push behind the school's biennial theatre productions he has shaped the confidence and acting skills of generations of village children. Many, including this reporter, count their roles in the community events as the high tide of their thespian achievements.

"I've been lucky," he says overlooking the scrubby hill dotted with native trees and a winding path named Ray's Way behind the school. "I've spent all my days with vital energy, with fun and youthful enthusiasm. We have to be thankful we have that. It rubs off. It really does. Sometimes it wears you down but I think as teachers we are lucky to spend our lives with people who have so much energy."

Leaving will not be easy. As much part of the school as its books, its playground and its classrooms, Mr Priest and Oakura School have for years been one in the same. "That's the way I feel and I do want to keep coming back."

Principal Lynne Hepworth wants it too, if only so the 66-year-old can continue infecting students with his passion for science and the environment.

"It's not uncommon for me to come past his room and see kids doing something with science, like using solar power to cook eggs or building trebuchet catapults. He doesn't just show them. He makes them do it. That spectacular hands-on programme he runs. That is what we will all miss."

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