Robert Fischer — an educator on land and sea
Robert Fischer, known throughout his life as Ward at his grandmother’s command, was a multifaceted educator and textbook author who, in a near 50-year career, never once was employed by a school or tertiary institute.
His was an educator’s role in life skills in just about everything he touched. Often writing his own resources and curriculum, Ward worked in road safety in the Ministry of Transport (later the Land Transport Safety Authority), with the Christian organisation the Boys’ Brigade, and with the Mountain Safety Council.
He even managed some teaching with the Waikato Yacht Squadron.
Ward was born in Whakatane and spent his first year or so living in an exarmy tent pitched on a site provided by local Ma¯ ori near the Whakatane paper mill where his father Robert worked.
With the birth of his sister Ethel the family qualified for a State house.
Life for the young Ward family was simple, but austere, with few luxuries.
Holidays were invariably spent camping at Whanarua Bay, between Opotoki and Te Kaha, and at Mahy’s Campground at Ohope.
In 1954 the family shifted to Hamilton, and Ward moved to Hamilton West Primary and then Southwell. Here he was an enthusiastic chorister in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado and at St Peter’s Cathedral for six years.
A man of firm faith, Ward remained a congregant throughout his life, serving on the altar, and as a reader and intercessor, before becoming a member of the church’s Lessor Chapter (a management committee).
Always physically active, at Hamilton Boys High Ward was a First XI hockey player, a sergeant in the Cadet Corps, a sailor on Hamilton Lake, a tramper with the Boys Brigade (starting another lifelong association), and involved in bushcraft and camping with the YMCA.
He would pass on all this learning throughout his life.
After Boys High Ward trained as a cabinet maker and joiner with the Ministry of Works, helping in the construction of the NZBC TV studios, the agricultural field service building at Ruakura, and the Department of Education.
In the late 60s he was seconded to Rarotonga to help build and fit out the new airport control tower and post office to encourage tourism.
Yachting was a lifelong passion for Ward, beginning with P-class, moth, and trailer-sailers with the Waikato yacht squadron before he finally took on his beloved Townson sloop Burgundy Rose. He sailed the Hauraki Gulf and Bay of Islands and enjoyed staying at isolated bays, swimming and sampling the occasional wine after dinner. It was this love of sail that put him in a particularly tight spot. After his second stint in Rarotonga, by way of a change, he signed on as crew on a 12-metre sloop, the Maiawa, bound for Auckland.
The three-man crew travelled via Raoul Island in the Kermadecs before they were de-masted in a storm. Brother Laurie recalled Ward admitting the experience was a terrifying one.
‘‘He described 40-foot waves crashing down, [the yacht] plunging into troughs, rising to the top, and surfing down again trailing their broken mast behind them.’’
On his return Ward rejoined the Ministry of Works carpentry team working on the Department of Agriculture sheep station site at Whatawhata before, in mid-1970, he decided to change tack and apply for a teaching job with the then Ministry of Transport (MoT) as a uniformed Traffic Education Officer. He rose through the ranks and become Regional Chief Traffic Safety Education Officer for the Greater Waikato area.
Many will recall Ward’s safety chant of ‘‘stop, look, and listen’’ when, as MoT radio spokesperson, he broadcast a regular Monday morning education slot.
Ward also set up school safety film presentations, using wrecked cars, school children, and lots of tomato sauce. These films were distributed throughout New Zealand.
In 1974 he was awarded the Governor General’s National Achievement Award for exceptional service in the cause of driver education and traffic safety.
The same year Ward, a keen motorcyclist, was instrumental in establishing the original not-for-profit community run Hamilton Motorcycle Riding School – kicking off 40 years of ongoing interest in motorcycle training, particularly with young people.
After the MoT’s merger with the police in 1992, Ward was appointed district manager for Land Transport tasked with managing the inaugural development of a core land transport group which later became the Land Transport Safety Authority. In 1994 he wrote a series of Ma¯ ori Language road safety readers which were officially launched at the Kirikiriroa Marae by Dame Te Atairangikahu. Copies were subsequently distributed to all Kohanga Reo units, bilingual Kura Ma¯ ori, and Kura Kaupapa throughout the country.
As well, he wrote and published the Learning System for Motorcycle Instructors for the MoT.
Following 34 continuous years with central government agencies Ward formed his own company focused on road safety education and also set up the Hamilton Motorcycle Riding School.
He was actively involved in the Ministry of Education’s Community Education programme and taught community education at Melville, Fraser, Fairfield, Putaruru, Morrinsville and Tokoroa high schools for 15 years.
In amongst all of this Ward maintained a significant voluntary community service, particularly through his 52-year continuous involvement with the Boys’ Brigade.
He first joined the Boys’ Brigade as a boy in the 1st Hamilton Brigade at St Andrews church in 1958. In 1964 he was appointed an officer, a position he held for 13 years. In the Cook Islands he assisted with the 1st Avarua Boys’ Brigade in Rarotonga. Subsequently he was involved with the 35th Wellington Company and in 1971 he started the 11th Wellington Company.
On his return to Hamilton in 1972 he re-joined the 1st Hamilton Company before starting the 4th Hamilton Company in Fairfield as Captain, a position he held for 21 years. He was serving as Captain of the 7th Hamilton Company at the time of his death.
As well, he served as the Waikato Battalion President for 17 years and in 2005 was the prime mover in the establishment of the Waikato Boys’ Brigade Charitable Trust. He spent 13 years on the national executive, three of them as vice-president, and represented the organisation at international level.
As part of his Boys’ Brigade role, he was appointed representative on the Mountain Safety Council’s Waikato Committee, where he was an instructor in both bush and mountain craft.
In 1995 he was sworn in as a Justice of the Peace.
Ward was presented with the Member of New Zealand Order of Merit Medal by Dame Patsy Reddy in 2017.
Ward loved travel. He did a cruise to the Antarctic and Falkland Islands but was too ill to manage the booked-andpaid-for cruise around Australia in November this year.
Ward was the much-loved son of the late Robert and Claire Fischer; brother and brother-in-law of Ethel and Stephen Caley, and Laurie and Libby Fischer; uncle of Leonard and Davina, Joanne and Bryan, Natalie, Dan and Debbie, Richard and Karina, and Nic and Amelia; greatuncle of all his nieces and nephews. A Life Story tells of a New Zealander who helped to shape the Waikato community. If you know of someone whose life story should be told, please email Charles.rid[email protected]tec.ac.nz
Ward Fischer used his years of experience road safety education in founding the Hamilton Motorcycle Riding School.