The incredible life of Kevin Peterson

Kevin Peterson with his wife, Dawn. Times photo Wayne Martin

Kevin Peterson often described himself as a “collector of happenings and experiences.”

It was his formative years in the harrowing days of depression that led Kevin to proclaim that “events” rather than materialistic “things” were nostalgic for him.

He was born on April 17, 1927.

He grew up in a cob house located on a small farm on Wai-iti Road, Timaru, with brother John and sisters Zona and Averille.

“From all accounts, life was pretty tough,” his son, David, said in his eulogy. “Money was tight.”

Kevin had a close relationship with his mother.

When his shyness failed to impress the interviewing panel at Teacher’s College, his mother met with them and insisted that they grant her son a place – so they did.

She had a significant influence on him.

“Dad often said that it was ordained that he would become a teacher from the moment he was conceived,” David said.

Kevin moved around a number of schools.

In 1958 he was appointed First Assistant at Matamata Primary.

This is where he met Dawn – another teacher at Matamata.

On December 30 1961 Kevin and Dawn were married.

Finally the married couple moved to 5 Bledisloe Street in Howick in 1967 where Kevin was appointed Headmaster of Cockle Bay School.

Cockle Bay School was a recurring feature in the family’s lives. Andrew, Kevin’s second son, and David attended as students and Dawn taught there for almost 26 years.

“Together Mum and Dad impacted the lives of countless students,” David said.

By the time Kevin retired in 1984, he’d enrolled more than 3000 students.

“Dad considered it important and a privilege that he met with each prospective family and student,” David said. “He handwrote the student’s name and other important details in a book that he kept as a memento after his retirement.”

Kevin had the phenomenal ability to recall the names of students many years after they had left the school.

David recalled many memories of trips to Howick with his father.

“It was hard work,” he said. “A short trip to the bookshop would take an inordinate amount of time, as Dad greeted past students by name.”

His wife, Dawn, died on August 25 2020.

To the Times, Kevin said his wife was “born to be a teacher” and was a “wonderful mother to our two boys.”

Together they taught for 101 years.

“Dad often wrote love notes to Mum,” David said. “Whilst Dad wasn’t demonstrative of his affection, he always gave Mum freshly cut flowers every week. He always called her his best friend.”

Kevin passed away at home on April 30.

It was no surprise, Sarah Park the Vicar of Clevedon Parish said at his funeral, that the service doubled as a school reunion for Cockle Bay.

“I claim my place among us as alumni,” Sarah said, “to pay tribute to KWP (Kevin William Peterson) – who despite never formally receiving a knighthood – was almost always known as ‘Sir.'”

During a phone call with Kevin, he took the opportunity to recite to Sarah the key elements of her birth notice from the newspaper in 1970.

Loyalty was evident in every relationship of Kevin’s life – with his children, his wife, his students, and his decade-long friendships.

He was an attentive and loving father and grandfather.

The opening of the Peterson Block at the school was a “huge matter of pride for Mum and Dad”, David said.

In later years of their retirement, Kevin and Dawn travelled often.

“Kevin was a world-class gardener. He won many prizes for his roses, street garden and vegetables.”

Additionally he went on to teach remedial maths to Saint Kentigern students 2 to 3 days a week for a further 17 years.

They were both active in the lives of their families and grandchildren.

“As Dad had said, this was all part of his collection of happenings and experiences,” David said.