Mr. Fix It Was a Quiet and Modest Man
Read more from Agewell. By Mike Milstein
Jack Skurr lost his battle with cancer last month. Through his celebration of life and an interview with his widow, Joan Skurr, we learn a great deal about a modest man. Jack was Mr. Fix It, the master of the practical, the can do and the will do. Growing up on a farm around Oxford in the Canterbury area, he went to a small primary school nearby, boarded at Christchurch Boys High, and earned a degree in maths and a Master of Science in maths with first class honours at University College in Christchurch.
Jack’s first career was in teaching because, as his wife says, “being a farmer’s boy he couldn’t think of anything else to do. He had no examples of anything other than possibly being a farmer, a shop owner, or a garage proprietor.”
He sought other opportunities, starting his exploration by sailing to England, marrying a woman he met on the boat, supply teaching in secondary modern schools and a grammar school for a few years before returned home. “He hated it. Children were not interested in maths and parents thought they were wasting time in school and should get jobs.”
Upon his return he taught at Hutt Valley High School, but soon accepted a lower paying position at the New Zealand Post Office because he believed that he had found his career path.
Jack was “somebody who enjoyed solving problems of any sort. He would look for and provide practical solutions. Being practical, energetic, and bright, he got a lot of satisfaction out of it.” At the Post Office “there were numerous things to learn and to be done. He even went out with the linesmen to learn about what they were doing.” He took courses to qualify as an engineer that gave him new opportunities. “He reveled at all the things he was able to do.”
Jack made some extraordinary contributions to the improvement of communications during his years at the Post Office. Joan says “I didn’t know any of this until I helped write his autobiography. Lots of information about his working life was completely unknown to me. He was a very modest person. I don’t think he went out and advertised his capabilities greatly.” His list of accomplishments is extensive, including:
- District Engineer for Gisborne/East Cape.
- Planning for the growth of the telephone system throughout New Zealand.
- Designing intercommunication equipment systems for businesses.
- Designing pathways for telephone microwave systems and finding sites for towers.
- Planning for the use of optics in New Zealand.
- Creating computer programs in the early days of computers to help engineers save time developing networking configurations.
- Introducing equipment and technologies developed in Japan, including subscriber toll dialing (STD).
- Planning the transition to digital communications.
- Jack was also practical in his non-work life, building houses in Johnsonville,
Karori, Waikanae and Nelson. Being so busy his relationships suffered. Both his first and second wives left, perhaps due in part to his preoccupation with work and building.
As an outlet for his disappointment in relationships Jack enjoyed amateur acting and singing. He met Joan and, together, they built a life of mutual interests.
Jack retired early from the Post Office. “At the time he was Assistant Engineer-in- Chief. Systems he planned and created were being implemented but there were restrictions on the money supply from the government and the Post Office telecommunications function was soon going to belong to someone else. He became a consultant at a firm in Wellington for a couple of years, with the Department of Industry and Commerce for another year, and helped with a United Nations project in the Cook Islands.” When Joan retired they moved to Nelson.
“Jack was keen to try a new life. He wanted a small patch of land so we could have a life style block and try something different.” He volunteered in the community—, helping the Citizen’s Advice Bureau store and retrieve information, the Museum categorize its photographic collection; the Nelson East Resident’s Association identify things that needed improvement, tutoring at Senior Net and singing in the Civic Choir. Jack was constantly reinventing himself as he grew professionally and personally.
Joan says “we had a lot of the same interests, traveled a lot, did genealogies together, all sorts of things.” For Jack and Joan living well clearly has meant “facing up to what is there and trying to make the most of it.” Note: This article summarizes an interview aired by Fresh FM that was conducted by Dr. Annie Henry and sponsored by Age Concern, Nelson. If you want to share your thoughts with the Conscious Ageing Network (CAN) or wish to know when interviews will be aired and when CAN articles will appear in the Leader, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.