24 November 2014

Happy 100th birthday Grandad

Today, the 24th of November 2014, marks what would have been the 100th birthday of my maternal grandfather, John Francis (Jack) EGAN.

Jack was born at Otautau in Western Southland, the eldest child of Hanora (nee COSGRIFF) and James EGAN, farmers from nearby Wrey’s Bush. He had two younger sisters, Molly and Kathleen, and a younger brother James. Jack’s mother died when he was only four years old and his childhood after that was quite unsettled, being brought up by his elderly grandmother and his father. After his mother’s death his younger siblings were taken away to be raised by others so Jack very rarely saw them. 
St Kevin's College Dux 1933

After his grandmother's death in 1926, and with his father becoming blind after a failed operation, at the age of 12 Jack was sent away to boarding school at St Kevin’s College in Oamaru. Here he excelled academically and also on the sporting field, showing talent in many different sports including cricket, rugby, tennis, athletics and shooting. He became Dux of the college in 1933.

While a pupil at St Kevin’s College he captained the 1st XV rugby team and also the 1st XI cricket team. He eventually went on to play provincial rugby at fullback for both Southland and then Otago, captaining the Otago rugby team during the late 1930’s. He captained the South Island Varsity rugby team, then the NZ Varsity team, as well as captaining the Otago cricket team.

Otago rugby captain 1937
Jack attended Otago University and then Teachers Training College. After an initial teaching post to the Hawkes Bay he returned south and spent the rest of his life either teaching or as headmaster in primary schools throughout Otago and Southland, including at Nightcaps, Kaiwera, Wendon, Hokonui, Balclutha and Mataura. 

Jack married in December 1944 to Mary Dorothy (Doris) SCHULTZ. They had a very happy marriage and went on to have a family of four children; Maureen, Dorothy, Paul and Brian.
Lieut. J.F.EGAN
NZ Army 1939 - 1945

Jack came from a long line of hard-working Irish immigrant families and he had a very strong work ethic, a trait which he tried to pass on to both his children and his pupils. He enjoyed giving back to the communities in which he lived and often organised the production of stage shows and musicals, coached sports teams, served on numerous committees and even spent some time as an elected member of the Mataura Borough Council.

My grandfather John Francis (Jack) Egan died on the 20th of October 1977, while still serving as the headmaster of the Mataura Primary School. He was aged only 63 years old. I was only six years old at the time and have only a few vivid memories of him. But from what I can remember of him as both my grandfather and also as the headmaster of the school I attended, he was a kind man who was firm but fair. Right throughout his career as a teacher, and then later as a headmaster, he very quickly gained the admiration and respect of his fellow teachers, his pupils and the whole community. 

Doris & Jack EGAN, about 1975

I would love to have had my grandfather in my life for a longer period of time as I was growing up. From what I have been told he had a great knowledge of our family history that unfortunately was never written down to be passed on. I think that him and I would have gotten on so well together and I can even picture in my mind conversations that I would love to have had with him that sadly never got to take place. 

I would love for him to still be around today to see his grandson Brendan (only 2 years old when he died) carving out his own career as a school teacher and now head of Religious Education at the Catholic secondary school that he himself worked so hard to help fundraise to build. Jack had dreams of his own children being able to be educated at St Peter’s College in Gore, but the building work was delayed and it wasn’t opened in time for any of them to attend. But after his death six of his grandchildren, including myself, did get to be educated there, and in more recent times two of his great grandchildren (my own two children) have also attended this great school. 
Brendan and Bridget, Aug 2014.
Wouldn't Jack have been so proud of these two !!!

Besides rugby and his family, two of Jack’s other great loves in life were drama and debating. I would love for him to have seen my daughter Bridget (his great granddaughter) scoop the senior debating awards at a recent Catholic secondary school debating competition, with his grandson Brendan also as the debating team coach. And at the same event another Egan family member (the great granddaughter of his cousin) won the junior debating awards. I bet Jack would have been just so proud if he had been there.

Another fullback in the family
And I bet he would have loved to have had the chance to stand on the sidelines and watch my son Mark (his great grandson) playing his favourite sport of rugby in the very same fullback position that he once played in, slotting the ball between the uprights from way out wide by the sideline, just as he did all those decades ago.

I believe it is such a shame that younger generations aren't able to get to know and love those from the older generations, since they often have so much in common but never have the chance to actually meet. But that's just the way life works; - people live and then they die but their genes still live on. My kids may not realise it, but I firmly believe that they have a lot of their great grandfather in them and that his legacy lives on through them and all of their cousins.

I know my grandfather Jack will still be keeping an eye on us all from Heaven, and I hope he is proud of how his family has grown and what they have all achieved. He was a hard working man who gave back to the community as much as he could. I believe he has every right to be proud of his family as it was him who instilled in us all the ethic to work hard to achieve well in this life, the willingness to help out and to give back to others, and the desire to do our best at all times. 

Happy 100th birthday Grandad. I think of you often and really wish I could have spent more years with you and had the chance to have known you better !!!


( For the full story of the early years of the marriage of Jack’s parents and the subsequent splitting up of the family please follow this link. )

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