There are many titles that Robert Walters is known by: Dad, Grandad, husband, Collegian, St Paul’s Fellow, farmer, donor and all-round great guy. Robert’s life is woven through the history of St Paul’s with three generations of his family in Williams House and many other family members involved in the School.
Robert Walters came to St Paul’s Collegiate School in 1968 from rural from Maihiihi School near Ōtorohanga.
He was a reluctant addition to the St Paul’s community; his father, Frank, sent him to boarding school to help Robert develop self-discipline and motivational tools. Robert quickly accepted that this place he had been sent to wasn’t as bad as he had first thought and he thrived on the sense of community and camaraderie of boarding life.
Robert’s school masters had a huge influence on his later philosophy on life. They set high standards and expectations that Robert has applied ever since in both his business practices and personal life.
While at St Paul’s, Robert enjoyed his involvement in both rugby and tennis and played for the second XV. In 1970, Robert entered the workforce with what he believed were no great academic endorsements but an ability and a real desire to learn. He had also developed into a well-rounded individual with a drive to achieve that was stronger than most.
Farming was in Robert’s blood. He initially share-milked with his brother, Trevor (Williams 1970 – 1971). Robert leased farms, built up his stock numbers and then in 1978, he brought his first farm. Over time, Robert owned many farms in the Ōtorohanga area and at times milked over 1,000 cows a day.
Never one to sit still, Robert diversified and set up an agricultural contracting firm in 1989, which undertook agricultural, section and roading developments, hay and silage work, groundwork and cropping.
But life for Robert has not been without adversity. Robert was widowed at age 29 when his wife of nine years, Colleen, passed away. They had four young children and Robert was responsible for them. Being on his own did not deter him in his role as father but instead, it made fatherhood more important; he ensured he was an integral part of his children’s lives. Robert became Chairman of Maihiihi Primary School, a school of 120 students, when Tomorrow’s Schools just started. The role helped ignite his passion for education to provide opportunities for young people to learn.
When it came time for his own children’s secondary schooling, there was only one option for his boys – St Paul’s. Robert saw that opportunity as a privilege and reward and he was very proud of their impressive individual and collective successes. Son, Peter (Williams 1990 – 1994) was Deputy Head of Williams House and a full School Prefect; Christopher (Williams 1994 – 1998) was Head of Williams House and a full School Prefect; daughter Michelle (Harington 1999 – 2000) was Head of Harington House and a full School Prefect; while his other daughter, Rachael was the Dux of Waikato Diocesan School for Girls, while also being a full School Prefect.
But Robert didn’t sit on the sidelines during his children’s high school education; he decided to give something back to a school that he believed had made a real difference to his life. In April 1995, he joined the Board. It was at a time when the school were making some big financial decisions including that ‘the school must grow or go backward’. A $7.5m loan was sought to extend the Chapel, build a new Science block, Student Centre, Technology Block and develop the student houses at Tihoi.
Over the first five years of Robert’s tenure on the Board, the School roll grew from 470 to 640. In the middle of 2004, Robert stepped down as a Board member after having made a huge impact on the school. His peers commented that his practical, no-nonsense, down-to-earth input in decision-making was particularly invaluable. A real team man, Robert had a feel for what a boarding family wanted and of the high education expectations a student should receive from St Paul’s.
Amazingly, given how busy Robert was with family, business and school governance duties, he still found ways to serve his community. He had a leadership role in the National Party, chaired Federated Farmers and was a committee member of the New Zealand Dairy Company. He also chaired the Otorohanga Community Trust Board for eight years. In recent years, Robert was a crucial member of the School’s Capital Campaign Cabinet. His passion for St Paul’s has been very clear to his fellow committee members.
Robert Walters has been an amazing supporter and advocate for St Paul’s. Not only did he send his own children to the school but he financially sponsored a number of other students to have the same opportunity. For over a decade, he played a key role in the governance of St Paul’s and actively worked to set it on an exciting pathway of redevelopment and growth.
Robert firmly believes, “That St Paul’s does not owe me as much as I owe it.” Past Headmaster Grant Lander (2010 – 2021) believes it is the other way around. He says, “Robert is a humble, self-made man who has overcome adversity and exhibits many of the important traits of a ‘man of good character’ that we strive to promote within our students.”
Robert passed away peacefully at Waikato Hospital, on Friday 2 June 2023 and is remembered as a Dearly loved partner in life to Delwyn. Proud and devoted father to Peter, Rachel, Chris and Michelle, stepdad to Jason and Nathan. Robert was an adored Grandad and a loyal and selfless friend to many.
Click here to watch a video showcasing Robert and the wider Walters family at the 2023 Grandparents’ Day: