In honour of Tom Tyler who died in December 2020, by Bishop Willie A. Pwaisiho.
The Melanesian Mission has a very rich history in having missionary bishops, priests, teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers, printers, carpenters, farmers, men and women who brought us the Good News of Jesus Christ through many of these different ways of service. Local people became Christians through their contact with schools, and hospitals.
I was very fortunate to meet some of those last missionaries and was taught by them before the Diocese of Melanesia became a separate Province from New Zealand in January 1975. When John Wallace Chisholm became Bishop of Melanesia on the 24th Sept. 1967, he saw that he should not just be responsible for the education of the country but rather should concentrate on the ministry of evangelism and training of catechists and priests.
As the British administration was preparing for the independence of the Solomon Islands, Bishop John Chisholm wanted to create a first-class church secondary school to help train the future leaders of an independent Solomons. The Bishop also wanted the new school to be close to Honiara, the capital, to introduce students, who mostly came from rural areas, to urban life. The Bishop also wanted to bring all the diocesan institutions closer to Honiara, so in 1969 Siota College moved from Gela to become Bishop Patteson Theological Centre, Kohimarama, for training catechists and priests and women lay workers. The printing press moved from Gela to Honiara. Two religious orders, the Franciscans and the Sisters of the Church arrived in Honiara, to have a joint household in the middle of the town for mission and ministry.
At the beginning of 1970, Selwyn College was created, bringing together Pawa boys school and Pamua girls school, with their teachers, to Najilagu on Guadalcanal. Tom always spoke his mind to the Bishop about making wrong appointments without consultation with the persons concerned. At the last minute he found out that he was to go Selwyn College to be Headmaster, a job he never came for in the first place. He did not feel he was qualified to be the head, but he obediently accepted the bishop’s order. It was there I met for the first time my humble Headmaster and priest Tom, and Tricia his wife, our school nurse, their son Andrew and their dog. I was the Head Prefect chosen by the staff at Pawa School.
It was not easy to run this co-educational school for the first time. The women staff from Pamua were unhappy about the girls working together with us boys in the fields doing manual work. As Head Prefect I had a lot of discussions with my Headmaster over this subject since we had to grow our own sweet potatoes and cassava vegetables as we had done at Pawa, Alangaula and Maravovo boys Schools. Having got my Headmaster on my side, we won the argument that for the school to be self-supporting we needed to have both girls and boys working in the fields together, growing their crops and vegetables and no more separation.
Tom was a hard-working man at school and led by example. During the first three months there was continuous flooding caused by heavy rain. To solve this problem, Terry Ward, our Australian volunteer and qualified plumber and Tom decided we needed to dig a six feet deep drain with a four feet diameter concrete pipe across the school compound. Tom led by example with a pair of shorts and spade and covered with mud, encouraging us to dig that two-hundred-metre-long drain.
Before his appointment as Headmaster of the newly created co – education secondary school for the Church of Melanesia at Najilagu, Tom was the Principal at Kohimarama, training catechists. He enjoyed very much going around different parishes in the islands with his catechists in training, showing them how to do pastoral work.
I pay tribute and salute my Headmaster Tom on behalf of former students of his in the Solomons and Vanuatu as a pioneer in co – education in the Anglican Church of Melanesia. His students went on to become bishops, priests, teachers, doctors, lawyers, diplomats and judges, nurses, parliamentarians, Provincial premiers, senior police officers, businessmen and women in both countries. That is the legacy he left us in Melanesia.
That reminds me of the words in St. John’s gospel 4.37 & 38, thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true.
“I sent you to reap what you have not worked for.
Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labour”.
We in Melanesia are still reaping the harvest we have never worked for.
An Irish blessing.
Tom, may the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be ever at your back,
May the sunshine warm upon your face.
And may the rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, may God hold you ever in the palm of his hand.
Teachers do not die; they live on by those they taught.
Farewell Tom, from ocean peace.
Bishop Willie A. Pwaisiho