This is the start of a series looking back over the lives of some of our longest living residents. We kick it off with a local legend and his wife.
INTERVIEW ANNA KILLICK PHOTOS TEZ MERCER
Garth Sim (101) Nen (Evelyn) Sim (96)
When and where were you born?
Garth: Gore. I was in the rather unusual situation of having both parents working. Not only that but my mother was a trained chemist – very rare in those days.
Nen: It allowed him a certain kind of freedom that other children didn’t have; he was a street kid, not homeless, but free to roam and make discoveries.
Garth: I watched the lamplighter stand on his pony, light the gaslight and as soon as the door was closed, drop back into the saddle as the horse would start walking. The local hotel kept some cows on the local reserve. Every morning the cows were driven to the hotel and milked for butter. Sometimes I ate in the hotel kitchen for free.
We had a housekeeper, Lottie, who kept an eye on us. She knew all the songs from the 1920s and would encourage us to sing them with her. I was moved straight from third form to fifth form along with four other boys, I think to make the school look better. Four of them died in the war.
What did you do for work?
I went to teachers’ college, specialising in physical education. Many had closed during the depression and there was a huge shortage of teachers. At the start of World War II, I was ineligible for overseas conscription as I had a smashed knee from playing rugby, so I was sent to the territorials to train other soldiers in munitions, eventually becoming a captain. I was frequently pulled away from teaching to train more soldiers.
Nen: During this time, we also married and had four daughters.
Garth: I went on to do a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Commerce while working full-time. Nen could have easily done a degree but she gave it away for the family.
Nen: I wanted to be a journalist and a teacher, and wrote the children’s page for the Southland Times for two shillings. I became a teacher, and worked while raising the kids and keeping the house. I’m a life member of the local Tauranga Golf Club, not because of my golf though. I also made $30,000 worth of fresh-pressed-flower greeting cards as a sideline business and hobby.
Garth: I became principal of Tauranga College in 1959 so we moved here. It was in an awkward state, short of staff and part of the school had split off to become Tauranga Girls’ College. I remember a marvellous Board of Directors. My job was to allow the teachers to ‘get on with it.’ Teachers went to more meetings and I did a lot of public speaking. There was much less administration than there is today.
Nen: He remembers the pupils like no other. He is respected for his integrity.
Garth: I’ve been in road construction, a teacher, headmaster, a director at Tasman Pulp and Paper, a backroom bloke in a commercial office, and a treasurer for a law firm. My last job was as ‘Man Friday’ for a civil engineer. He wanted a general fellow to cover things as he was very busy and went away a lot. I told him that the next time he returned, I wanted a full day with him. I took him to meet all the bank managers in town seeing as I was spending his money for him.
Nen: Garth’s a people person; all the ladies love talking to him. I’m a ‘doer.’ I am thrilled to note that the love of family has remained with our daughters. They are my ‘beloveds.’ They have arranged the sale of the house and have been so good to us.
When did you finally retire?
Garth: At 88. It wasn’t hard for me to slide into retirement. I didn’t do much. I read.
Nen: He has so many memories to look back on.
What is the secret to your longevity?
Nen: I think it’s his constitution. After he finished at Tauranga Boys’ College, it turned out that he had had a silent coronary but the doctor told us that nothing needed doing because Garth’s body had done its own bypass surgery! I’ve said to my family that it doesn’t bother me if I pop off but it’s got to be fun and laughter. Two of my daughters have promised me that.
What are your impressions of the Bay of Plenty?
Nen: I love the climate; I thought we’d come to Hawaii or one of those places. I found the driving awful, and I found the people a bit hard to get to know to begin with when we came here in 1959 but now I love, love it!