"To be born Welsh is to be born privileged,
Not with a silver spoon in your mouth,
But music in your blood
And poetry in your soul."
Peter Fairs' was a full and fulfilled life. Born in Wales, he spent his early childhood in Egypt, as his father, a Royal Air Force officer, was posted there prior to the Second World War. A scholarship winner, Peter’s secondary education was completed in Wales, with a classmate being Harry Secombe, one of the famous Goons. They remained close friends until Harry died.
Peter was commissioned in the Royal Marines in January 1942 and saw service in India and Malaya. After the war he joined the Singapore Harbours Board and worked in Singapore. But this work was not to his liking, as he was constantly frustrated by Communist agitation and strikes, so he resigned.
Having experienced the destruction brought about by war, Peter decided to become a builder of youth through education and left the Far East to study at The College of the Most Totally and Undivided Trinity of Queen Elizabeth, near Dublin. He read Geography, Geology, English and Education. Trinity College Dublin is a famous university whose alumni include Oliver Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, Jonathon Swift and Peter Fairs. Jonathan Swift wrote, “May you live all the days of your life”. Peter certainly lived those university days to the full. He is remembered with affection throughout the world by the many friends he made during the war, while playing rugby and at university.
1952 was a significant year for Peter. The then Headmaster of St Peter’s College, Colin Gordon, was in London recruiting staff for the School. Three of his appointments were Peter Fairs, Kenneth Peake-Jones and Harry Palmer – all major contributors, both in the classroom and in extra-curricular activities. Peter began at St Peter’s in 1953, teaching grade VII.
As a boarding housemaster, Peter with supportive help from his wife Barbie, set an enviable example of the concerned family – always loving, charitable, understanding and forgiving. There was no anger, no bitterness in the Fairs house. Their family was large since the day they were married, taking on the responsibility of boarding house duties as well as raising a family of four. Hundreds of borders, aged from 8 to 18, had the privilege of belonging to the caring custody of Peter and Barbie. And many nervous new parents, being separated from their sons for the first time, left the boarding house reassured that their precious boy was in good hands after meeting the Fairs.
There was no more demanding job in a school like Saints than being a boarding house master, not even a headship. Even the holidays gave Peter and Barbie little respite from duty. They hosted a number of National Music Camps at St Peter’s during the Christmas holidays and the sound of music was heard throughout the School, to the joy of all.
Sport, particularly rugby and the accompanying fellowship so characteristic of true sportsman, was always a valued part of Peter’s life. Peter played for a United Services XV and Welsh Services XV during the war, for his university, for Burnside and for South Australia in 1955 against the Fijians. It is typical of this man that he continued to support rugby after his playing days were over, as a referee and as the manager of the South Australian schoolboys XV for three National Carnivals. It was Peter who started rugby at St Peter’s in the late 1950’s.
His very high qualities as a man, exemplified in friendship, fairness, generosity, kindness towards all, and love of fun and family, showed in Peter’s career as an educator for over 32 years, and then as a significant contributor in his Adelaide Hills community for another 32 years. These were the outer signs of a person who gave so much more to others than he ever wanted for himself.
His 2004 Order of Australia Medal OAM, was for outstanding service to his community, particularly in mental health issues.
Peter is survived by his wife Barbie, his 4 children, and 9 grandchildren.
Ray Stanley AM, OBE, RFD, ED.
My Sweet Adelaide, a poem by Peter Fairs
No fairer lady can there be
Than Colonel Light’s creation –
From parkland paradise to sea,
A site for immigration.
She has variety of life
Enhanced by others’ ways.
Their customs and their festivals
Add colour to her days.
She has tree-lined, expansive streets
And yet, she seems so small,
For one can always meet a friend
When strolling through the Mall.
So talented creatively –
Art, drama, music, dancing.
No matter what the critics say
She’ll never stop advancing.
How fortunate this migrant was
In February ’53,
When at first sight he fell for her…
A jewel by the sea.
Take notice Mr Premier!