ONE OF A KIND: Former Governor General Major General Michael Jeffery (right) presented Jack Plews with his Membership of the Order of Australia (AM) in April, 2006 for services to education. Mr Plews passed away on Saturday night. HELPING to take more than 300 students camping on a weekend was nothing for Jack Plews.
In fact it was one of life’s joys for the man who devoted nearly 40 years of service to Goulburn High School.
Developing children to be their best was a hallmark of his teaching approach, friends and former colleagues recalled yesterday. Mr Plews passed away, aged 89, in Canberra on Saturday night. He was an English and History teacher and master, deputy principal and principal of the school from 1948 to 1987, and was awarded numerous honours for his service.
Mr Plews was renowned for his encyclopaedic memory for students’ names, which was surely tested among more than 18,000 children he educated.
Former colleague Ross Banwell, who worked with Mr Plews as industrial arts teacher for 37 years, described him as a disciplinarian. But he also had an eye on students’ social development.
“We’d take 300 kids camping out at Oallen Ford on weekends and that was interesting,” Mr Banwell said.
“He joined us for a lot of bushwalking, gold panning and other activities with the kids and even kept it going four years after retiring.” “As a principal he was beaut – always very friendly and helpful to everyone.”
Mr Plews started the Duke of Edinburgh scheme in Goulburn in 1971.
Mr Banwell also recalled Mr Plews’ athleticism, continued from his younger years. At the age of 53 he learnt canoeing and started a canoe polo competition at Goulburn pool. Not only did he make his own canoe but became adept at the “Eskimo roll” – turning full circle while staying seated. Former Goulburn Post editor Ray Leeson said it was unique that Mr Plews had been a student, teacher and principal at Goulburn High.
“He was a brilliant student and was dux of every class,” he said. “I was two years behind him and we got to know each other well.”
He remembered Jack as a fast runner who excelled as a centre in the school rugby league team, in which Mr Leeson also played. “He was a great fellow and a good mate to everyone,” Mr Leeson said.
Education was a great driver in his life.
Born at Gunning in 1923, one of 10 children, he was educated at the local public school and became dux in 1935. He won a scholarship to Goulburn High from 1936 to 1940, later counting himself lucky he was able to continue his schooling during the Depression years.
He began a Bachelor of Arts at Sydney University in 1940 but this was interrupted by the war and his enlistment in the AIF’s 12th field regiment.
On his return, Mr Plews recommenced study, and graduated with an Arts degree and Diploma of Education.
His first appointment was back at Goulburn High School as English and History teacher. He held this post from 1948-57 and then appointed master from 1958-1964. In 1965 Mr Plews was appointed deputy principal, a role he held until 1980 when he became principal.
He oversaw a massive growth in enrolments from 450 in the 1940s to over 1450 in 1972 when Mulwaree High School opened. Mr Plews told the Goulburn Evening Post in a 1982 interview that commonsense and humanity were key qualities in leadership roles.
Former student Leon Oberg, who attended the school in the mid-1950s, remembered his approach well.
“He was fierce, firm and fair and I admired the work he did for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme,” Mr Oberg said yesterday.
“He helped a lot of kids that went off track a bit.”
He recalled one look from Mr Plews was enough to silence an unruly classroom.
During the 1962 Catholic school protest, the then master won plaudits for his handling of the influx of students. It was only for a week but he welcomed the newcomers with open arms and diplomacy.
On his retirement, he had not taken one day’s leave of absence. Mr Plews’ association with Goulburn High was also the longest continuous service of any teacher within the NSW Education Department.
Not surprisingly, he won plenty of honours, including appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia in 2006 for services to education and the community, the Governor General’s Centenary Medal in 2001.
He also won the NSW State Service Medallion in 1991, the NSW Premier’s Award in 1989, the State’s Service to Children Award in 1987, NSW Police Award in 1986 and took out Goulburn Citizen of the Year in 1982.
Mr Plews also had a strong association with many of Goulburn’s sporting and community organisations.
Goulburn residents will fondly remember the pride he and wife, Joyce took in their Montague St home’s garden and their success in the annual Lilac Time festival competition.
Some time after Joyce passed away in September, 2007, he moved to Canberra but maintained strong links with Goulburn.
He passed away in Canberra following illness.
Mr Plews is survived by his children Anne, Jennifer, John and David.
Funeral arrangements will be published in Wednesday’s Goulburn Post.
* The author acknowledges the assistance of John Plews and information compiled by Leon Oberg and Ray Leeson.
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