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Source: University of Canterbury

31 August 2020

Scholarships enabling aspiring young students from Timaru Boys’ High School to pursue tertiary studies at the University of Canterbury have been made possible through the generosity of Philippa, Lady Tait.

  • Philippa, Lady Tait and Admiral Sir Gordon Tait at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, UK, in 1971. (Photo: Supplied by the Tait family)

Scholarships enabling aspiring young students from Timaru Boys’ High School to pursue tertiary studies at Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha | the University of Canterbury have been made possible through the generosity of Philippa, Lady Tait.

The Admiral Sir Gordon Tait Scholarship, established by Lady Tait in 2008, honours the memory of her late husband and fulfils one of his wishes – to support and inspire young men from Timaru Boys’ High School (TBHS) to study at the University of Canterbury (UC). Lady Tait’s 2020 donation ensures the scholarship award will continue in perpetuity, creating a legacy of support for TBHS students to study at UC. She says Sir Gordon liked the idea of being able to support boys of talent to further their studies without a heavy financial burden.

Sir Gordon attended TBHS as a pupil from 1935 to 1939, where his father Allan, a UC graduate, taught from 1913 to 1925 and became the Rector in 1935. Sir Gordon immersed himself in school life, participating in rugby, cricket, athletics and swimming, performing in the school’s brass band and acting in the drama club. He showed great leadership potential in his teenage years and was a House Prefect, School Prefect and the Head of House.

TBHS students recognise Sir Gordon as the school’s most distinguished military Old Boy. The well-known Tait name links Rector Allan Tait with his sons, Gordon and Jim, both noted for their naval service in World War 2.

Leaving New Zealand in early 1939, Sir Gordon joined the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, in the United Kingdom, aged 17 as a Special Entry Cadet. After war broke out, he served at sea in the Royal Navy. He earned his Distinguished Service Cross for “courage, coolness in action and skill as a gunnery control officer” while serving in wartime submarine patrols in the Mediterranean. Promotion came rapidly. He was appointed commander of the 3rd Submarine Squadron, then as Chief of Staff for the Submarine Command and Captain of the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.

From 1949 to 1951 Sir Gordon was in New Zealand as aide de camp to Governor General Lord Freyberg VC, and held a post with the British High Commission in Canada. Promoted to Vice Admiral and Flag Officer, Plymouth, he commanded the Devonport Naval Dockyard while also serving as Nato Commander, Central Atlantic. At the peak of his career he held the appointment of Second Sea Lord from 1977 to 1979, was promoted to Admiral and made a Freeman of the City of London in 1978. He remained in the Royal Navy until his retirement in 1979.

Retiring to Auckland, he became involved in public work, chairing community trusts and charities. Sir Gordon held numerous directorships, including the Westpac Banking Corporation, Todd Corporation and AGC (NZ). He was involved with many charities including the NZ Family Trust, the NZ Sports Foundation, the NZ International Yachting Trust, the NZ Maritime Museum, and the Spirit of Adventure Trust Board. Sir Gordon was married for 53 years to Philippa, daughter of Sir Bryan and Lady Todd of Wellington. They had two sons, Andrew and Henry, and two daughters Georgina and Sophie. Admiral Sir Gordon Tait died in 2005.

Integral to Sir Gordon’s involvement with charities was his love of meeting and encouraging young people. “Our father was keen to leave a scholarship for boys from Timaru Boys’ High School to attend the University of Canterbury, which is where his father studied before becoming Rector of TBHS,” a member of Sir Gordon’s family says.

“He was fully involved in sports, culture and community activities at the school.  A keen rugby player and a clarinettist, pianist and a trumpet player, he also had his first taste of the Navy when playing Sir Joseph Porter KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty, in a school performance of HMS Pinafore in 1938.  Life then followed art as he eventually became Second Sea Lord.

“Our father would have loved to have met the recipients of this scholarship. It has given our mother great pleasure to read of their achievements.”

The inaugural recipient of the Admiral Sir Gordon Tait Scholarship in 2008, Simon Hogg, earned his Bachelor of Science with first-class Honours from the University of Canterbury, and went on to receive his PhD from the University of Melbourne. He was awarded the Peter Mac Postgraduate Research Medal in 2018, after being judged to have made the most significant impact on cancer research by the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. Dr Hogg has returned to TBHS a number of times to talk to students about the value of pursuing science, research and tertiary education. Dr Hogg says he was very proud to have been the inaugural recipient of the Admiral Sir Gordon Tait Scholarship and will continue to be an ambassador for this award.