An Auckland school is mourning the loss of a beloved teacher considered a father figure to his students who died in a freak accident during lockdown.
Kelston Boys’ High School’s Chris Daly was admitted to hospital on his first wedding anniversary last month after a fall at home.
His wife Sarah, who was in Australia at the time of his accident, rushed to secure a spot in New Zealand MIQ after learning of the accident. She was in managed isolation as Daly fought for his life in hospital.
The 50-year-old died on March 16 in Auckland Hospital and since his death, stories of his generosity and dedication as a teacher have emerged.
Former student Okusitino Paseka can still remember the day he stood at roll call with broken, taped up shoes. Daly saw his broken shoes and gave him $40 to buy a new pair.
“There is no such word where I can describe his generosity,” Okusitino said.
“He walked past me and said, ‘Oh, your shoes are ripped and you’ve got tape around it’. He pulled $40 out of his wallet and gave it to me.
“He didn’t want anyone to know. He didn’t want anything in return.”
Daly could be something of a paradox; provocative but gentle, irreverent but extremely loyal.
To sister Alison Redfern Daly, he was a “lovable rogue”.
“He was an exceptional man, a very engaging, humorous person that commanded the room, had presence and charisma. We are devastated to lose him at only 50 years.”
Alison and Daly grew up in Kelston while summer holidays were spent at the family’s Great Barrier Island bach.
Daly was intelligent and passionate about cricket, acoustic guitar and animals – in particular, he was “crazy” about cats.
Albert Einstein was his hero.
He eventually moved to Perth and studied physics at Curtin University.
He married later in life, but had met his future wife, Sarah, in his 20s.
After 15 years in Australia, Daly returned to Auckland and completed a Masters degree.
“He got a job interview at Kelston Boys’ High and everything changed. That classroom was his life.”
Daly ran the school’s table tennis club and if the boys won a game, he would shout them McDonald’s.
He was a good player, but there was one person who could beat him – his 79-year-old mother.
“He was so competitive. Mum would beat him. He would shriek and go over to the scoreboard and demand a rematch. He was quite a sore loser.”
Daly had said he didn’t think he was doing enough as a teacher.
“We’ve realised that he has done more than enough, he was not an average teacher, he was an exceptional teacher.
“Some boys said he was the glue that kept the school together. Other boys talked about him being a father figure. He had such a good way of teaching. He could boil down a topic like physics and make it into a relevant context for them that they could understand.
“If they needed a bus fare, if they needed lunch, Daly always put his hand in his pocket and helped them out. He looked at the whole child, not just their academic results.”
Head of department Sharif Member was involved in recruiting Daly and watched him teach a trial class.
“He was just a nice guy. He forged relationships really quickly in that one lesson he had taught. That’s what drew us to him.
“In the seriousness of teaching, he was the one I could go to, to see the lighter side in the day. [He was] cracking jokes all the time.”
Principal Adeline Blair said it was an honour to have Daly teach at the school.
“He was a teacher that was much loved by all the students. He gave a lot of himself. It epitomises him as a person in terms of his willingness to give his all.”
Daly had a teaching philosophy: “Every boy is a block of stone,” he had told Alison. “Some will crumble, some will shatter when you least expect it. They all deserve a chance to excel. I love them all.”
The physics teacher thought he may never get married, but three years ago, he reconnected online with Sarah.
“Daly was delighted. He couldn’t stop smiling,” Alison said.
He loved being at home, especially if Sarah was home, Alison said during her eulogy at his funeral.
“Their love was deep. Chris would text me, ‘Sarah has just done her hair and she doesn’t like it, please tell her it’s beautiful’.”
Daly was buried at the family’s tūrangawaewae, Great Barrier Island, next to his beloved nana Betty Daly and other whānau at the Gooseberry Flat Cemetery.
The students made badges for Daly’s family and wore them at his funeral.
The badges had a photo of Daly and the words: “You’re wings were ready but my heart was not.”
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