WELLINGTON – Former All Black captain John Graham, a respected sports administrator, educator and mentor to World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry, has died at the age of 82, New Zealand Rugby said on Thursday.
Loose forward Graham played 22 Tests in his 53 games for the All Blacks from 1958-64 and captained the side 10 times, including in his final three Tests, all against Australia.
“DJ (Graham) was a great all round New Zealander. From his exploits on the rugby field to those in the classroom, he was simply exceptional,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said of the former school headmaster in a statement on Thursday.
“His commitment to all aspects of the game and New Zealand society is legendary. He was a player, coach and administrator of rugby and also managed the New Zealand cricket team.
“Equal to his sporting achievements was his academic contribution driven by a lifelong commitment to the transformative power of education.”
Graham was admired for his integrity and having toured South Africa with the All Blacks in 1960, he spoke out against apartheid.
“I said that if we had any conscience and feeling for humanity, we should not have been touring South Africa,” he said upon his return.
He held firm to that stance and did not attend any of the matches on the controversial 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand, when anti-apartheid protestors fought pitched battles with police and rugby fans in the streets.
A trained school teacher, Graham made arguably his biggest impact on New Zealand’s sporting landscape as the headmaster of Auckland Grammar for 20 years from 1973.
The school has a strong academic and sports pedigree, particularly in rugby, having produced 49 All Blacks representatives – the most by a single school.
Sad news: Auckland Cricket Patron and Board Member Sir John Graham has passed away. A decorated life, a man who will be missed by many. RIP pic.twitter.com/nPnaE4Y3fB
Graham was a mentor for a generation of teachers and sports coaches at the school, who included 2011 World Cup-winning coach Henry, who taught there from 1973-82.
“I learned a lot from DJ,” Henry said in quotes published by Fairfax Media. “I found him to be a quality leader with an innate ability to develop other people.”
A former Chancellor of the University of Auckland, Graham was also the manager of the New Zealand cricket team from 1996-99, and held a number of administrative roles in provincial rugby and secondary school sport.