In the 85-year history of the annual St Kevin’s College and Waitaki Boys’ High School rugby match there have been many constants, but this year there will be one marked difference.
St Kevin’s College old boy Kevin Howard, who rarely missed watching a game since he left school in 1940, will not be there.
Mr Howard died in March this year, aged 97.
Born on June 2, 1921, Mr Howard grew up in rural North Otago and worked on a threshing mill to pay his boarding fees at St Kevin’s College.
That meant he started his school year between April and June. He missed a lot of schoolwork, but he never missed much of the rugby season.
Mr Howard attended St Kevin’s from 1936 to 1940, and played in the First XV as a winger from 1938 to 1940. Waitaki Boys’ won both of the interschool clashes Mr Howard played in – 25-15 in 1939 and 12-0 in 1940.
The two schools did not go head-to-head in 1938 because of a polio outbreak at the time.
After finishing school, Mr Howard was called up for three months’ military service and later served overseas, spending 18 months in Africa, Europe and Asia.
Upon his return, he met Iris Dorward at a dance in the Scottish Hall. They were married in St Patrick’s Basilica on July 23, 1949 and raised six children – John, Peter, Barry, Michael, Maureen and Bernadette.
Mr Howard continued his rugby career with Ngapara, also representing North Otago, and worked as a grader and truck driver for the Waitaki County Council until his retirement.
In his latter years, he devoted his time to his extended family, which grew to include seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was also a keen gardener, loved his sport – his wife Iris always described him as “rugby mad” – and maintained good health, apart from a stroke in his 80s.
According to his family, he still managed to back his car into his garage with three inches of space either side, up until six weeks before his death.
Mr Howard reckoned he only missed watching one of the annual First XV rugby fixtures since he left school in 1940.
Along with Anzac Day, it was one of the events marked on his calendar well ahead of time and last year’s game was a particularly special one.
St Kevin’s won the “Peanut”, the Leo O’Malley Trophy, for the first time in three years, and Mr Howard and his son Michael found themselves swept up in the celebrations.
“We went and talked to the St Kevin’s captain, Tama Woolridge,” Michael said.
“He was really good, he shook Dad’s hand, and thanked him for the support.
“Dad got a real kick out of that.”
Michael will attend today’s Blood Match, and some of his siblings are hoping to join him.
He will take his father’s First XV cap to the game, but has not decided if he will wear it or not.
“It is hard to know what to do when he isn’t here.
“But we are keen to carry on his legacy.”