A founding member of Goulburn Valley Grammar School, retired lawyer Peter Johnson has stepped down after 40 years of formal involvement with the school. The following article written by John Lewis was published in the Shepparton News on Friday, October 16. The school will formally acknowledge Peter’s contribution in the months ahead.
A founding member of Goulburn Valley Grammar School, retired lawyer Peter Johnson has finally stepped down after 40 years of formal involvement with the Shepparton-based independent school. John Lewis spoke to Peter and others about his contribution to the now highly successful and respected institution.
From little things big things grow – in this case from a lunchtime chat to a brand new school.
Shepparton lawyer Peter Johnson was enjoying a meal with Wesley College teacher David Kings in the late 1970s when the subject of education came up.
a‘‘We started having a discussion about education and ways of retaining our young people in the Shepparton area. We talked about the possibility of a new school here and we ended up saying ‘let’s have a look at this,’’ Peter recalled.
Peter was there in 1979 as treasurer when a steering committee was established to drive the idea of a new school.
He was there two months later when a public meeting was called at Shepparton’s Alex Rigg Theatrette in the Civic Centre to discuss plans for an independent school for the city.
The meeting drew more than 200 people and gave the green light to go ahead with the plan.
‘‘It was amazing the support we had at that meeting,’’ Peter said.
He was there when an interim school council was established along with sub-committees and the hurdles of secure funding were overcome – eventually with support from the State Bank superannuation fund. He was there when the first classes were held at Shepparton United Football Club rooms while the new school was being built at Grace and VerneyRoads in north Shepparton.
‘‘Those first classes were accompanied by the smell of liniment,’’ Peter recalled with a smile.
Peter and his wife Carmel were there to help with fundraising and the organisation of school uniforms and buses out to the new site.
He was undoubtedly there to watch the dream become a reality when classes were slowly moved out to the new site from February 1982.
Peter joined the finance committee and was there to guide the school through the difficult drought and recession years of the 1990s and early 2000s when enrolments began to slow.
‘‘Things got very tight, numbers were falling away, parents were under a lot of pressure and I remember thinking ‘have we reached a tipping point?’’’ he recalled.
Peter said the school was saved by the appointment of former Wesley College principal David Prest as GVGS principal in 1992.
Peter’s legal expertise and unwavering support were there up until last week when he announced his resignation from the school’s finance and foundation committees – formally ending more than 40 years of association with Goulburn Valley Grammar School.
Now 79, Peter said the school’s solid reputation for academic excellence and strong pastoral care had been an inspiration to him. ‘
‘We became aware of what can be achieved through good education and that in itself
becomes an inspiration,’’ he said.
‘‘I think we’ve achieved the goals we had at the outset, and that has brought me great pleasure over the years,’’ he said.
Peter also saluted the commitment of parents.
‘‘Schools don’t succeed without the commitment of parents, and those early parents were very brave. They had a lot of faith – and that has continued today,’’ he said.
Current GVGS principal Mark Torriero said Peter’s contribution to the school had been profound.
‘‘Ever modest and never seeking recognition, Peter could always be relied on to place the interests of the school at the centre of his thoughts. The dream he helped bring to reality has changed the lives of thousands of young people in the Goulburn Valley. He will always be a dear friend of the school,’’ Mr Torriero said.
After Peter announced his resignation, fellow long-time member of the school’s finance committee Laurie Pennellthanked Peter for his contribution.
‘‘I have been fortunate to serve on this committee with Peter for I think 30 years and wish to acknowledge the major contributions he has made to the school with both his legal and common sense commercial advice during both good and difficult times for the school,’’ Mr Pennell said.
GVGS business manager Kim Stokie praised the altruistic contribution of Peter and Carmel Johnson, who have no children. ‘‘Peter had no vested interest in establishing an independent school, but saw it as a key component of a major regional centre,’’ he said.
‘‘His commitment, contribution and devotion to the school have been unflinching. He has seen through challenging times in the school’s fledgling years and the 1990s recession, through to the school’s maturity and full enrolment,’’ Mr Stokiesaid.
SHEPPARTON NEWS, FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16, 2020
Picture: Rodney Braithwaite