During the 2013 Graduation Dinner, Westlakers President Richard Stevens presented the “Westlakers Lifetime Award”. This unique acknowledgement goes to a Westlaker whose contribution to Westlake Boys High School is so significant that their efforts are considered to have enriched Westlake and make the school a better place forever. A Westlaker can be a former student, staff member or valued friend of the Westlake community. It was therefore no surprise that this year’s Westlakers Lifetime Award was awarded to “Mr Westlake”, Don Johnson.
Don joined the Westlake staff in 1971 as Head of Geography and remained at the school for 30 years until his retirement as a Deputy Headmaster in 2000. He was a significant influence in all aspects of Westlake life and his passion for rugby saw him coach for three decades whilst establishing links with other schools, hosting fixtures against international teams and organising countless fundraising schemes for the many rugby trips, tours and tournaments. Don enjoyed two stints as 1st XV coach (1980-82 and 1991-94) and before, between and after he coached the 5A’s and 3A’s, winning the Auckland 3A title in 1978 as well as five Harbour 3A titles.
Don’s teams notched up many special wins in his seven seasons with the 1st XV, a 10-6 victory over Auckland Grammar in 1981 ranking high amongst these as it brought to an end a record run of 43 consecutive wins for Grammar. The 15-5 defeat of Kings in 1994 was the last success Westlake achieved over its rival. All Black and Westlaker Ron Williams who captained the 1st XV in 1981 played three seasons under Don Johnson and regarded him as an innovative coach who was ahead of his time – he recalls that Don was focused on getting the structure right as well as taking care of the basics.Don went the extra mile as both a teacher and a coach.
He produced team booklets every year that recorded season statistics, game reports, performance highlights, team photos, cartoons and always, the trademark Johnson prose featured in the poems he wrote that always included mention of every team member (click here to read Don’s poem below written after the 1980 1st XV season).
In addition to being a legendary teacher and rugby coach, Don Johnson was well known for his terrific sense of humour and is often credited by old boys as a teacher who went the extra mile and pointed them in the right direction when they needed guidance. The school still regularly receives mail from Old Boys wanting to make contact with their school hero Mr Johnson decades after they were taught by him.Nowadays, if Don is not enjoying a round of golf at North Shore Golf Club, he can often be found around school lending a helping hand, supporting school events and embellishing proceedings with an entertaining tale or two.
He has contributed significantly to the fabric of the school and the community that we are all proud to be a part of. If you ever want to know anything about Westlake folklore and hilarity, be sure to have a chat to this special Westlaker!
If you hear any news of Westlake Old Boys or former staff or if you are interested in supporting Westlakers events and activities, please contact Mrs Christine O’Dowd at school on 09 410 8667 or by email [email protected]