As we celebrate the completion of the new Dr Wood Learning Centre
, two of Dr Harold Wood’s children, Janet Secomb (Wood 1944) and D’Arcy Wood, have generously shared their memories of his 28- year leadership of MLC.
Their recollections create a vivid picture of the man after whom the new Year 9 learning centre is named and also highlight the vital contribution of his wife and their mother, Dr Olive Wood.
Reverend Dr A H Wood OBE was MLC’s Principal from 1939 – 1966. A Methodist minister, he had previously spent 13 years as principal of a Tongan boarding school and, while Principal at MLC forged a strong connection between MLC and the people of Tonga. Dr Harold Wood and Dr Olive Wood had six children. The whole family resided in what is now known as The Residence, adjoining the MLC Boarding House. Naturally, Janet and her sisters attended MLC.
“Dad was very enthusiastic about girls’ education,” Janet recalls. “Every year at Speech Night he would remind parents: ‘You must give to your daughters the same education that you give to your sons’. It was a message he repeated year after year, at a time when most girls left school at Year 10.”
Under Harold Wood’s leadership MLC expanded rapidly, rising from a student population of 650 to more than 2200 by the time he retired.
“It was a time of huge expansion for MLC, with new buildings going up all the time” D’Arcy recalls. “Dad was especially keen to provide high quality science facilities. He also oversaw the building of MLC’s Assembly Hall, which I remember being opened with great fanfare in 1957.”
A MAN OF VALUES
D’Arcy recalls life with his father at MLC’s helm as “disciplined and orderly”, while Janet remembers the strong values that Harold instilled in the student population. “MLC had a reputation for giving girls not just a good education, but a sound start in life,” says Janet, who remembers loving life at MLC.
“I had many friends among the day girls – who came from all over Melbourne – and in the boarding house I had friends everywhere! It was one big, extended family of girls.”
Harold Wood was famous for knowing the first name of every student in the College.
“He had an incredible memory, which he retained throughout his life,” says D’Arcy. “He was also a wonderful musician with a passion for music education. He relished the chance to play the piano at the Melbourne Town Hall on the occasion of his final Speech Night.”
At a time of strict social division along religious and cultural lines, Harold Wood was known for welcoming students of many backgrounds to MLC.
“He had very strong religious beliefs himself, but he respected the beliefs of others,” D’Arcy recalls.
Harold presided over the College during the Second World War, which D’Arcy and Janet remember as a challenging time
“In the boarding house, it was difficult to buy enough food during rationing. Mum had to manage each student’s ration book and spend hours cutting out hundreds of coupons,” Janet says.
DR OLIVE WOOD
Dr Olive Wood played a significant role in many aspects of College life.
“She was the ‘unofficial assistant principal’,” Janet says.
Among the first generation of women in Australia to qualify as a medical doctor, Olive had been educated at MLC Sydney and was one of the two first female residents at Brisbane Hospital. Olive provided medical care to boarders, used her sharp, mathematical mind to devise the College’s yearly timetable and played an active role in managing staffing, provisions and catering within the Boarding House.
“Mum even started a pre-nursing course at MLC, which was recognised by Melbourne’s hospitals as a legitimate pathway into nursing,” Janet says.
As MLC Principal, Harold Wood’s commitment to social justice was known and respected. Many former students instantly recall his favourite quote from the New Testament: “From those to whom much is given, much will be required.”
“Dad was a man with a strong moral compass. He also possessed great energy and stamina. He would travel all over Victoria on Sundays to deliver sermons, which were often reported in the press,” D’Arcy recalls. “He had a huge, lifelong interest in current affairs – both locally and globally.”
Across 28 years as Principal, Dr Harold Wood’s unwavering dedication to MLC saw him inspire and encourage his teaching and support staff.
“Dad attracted amazing people to MLC,” says D’Arcy, recalling Jean Chambers, Joan Forster, Dorothy Dwyer, Ruth Flockart and many others who played a role in the school’s incredible growth, particularly during the 1950s and 1960s.
Dr Wood held positions of leadership within the Methodist Church and inspired D’Arcy and Janet to pursue religious careers. Janet spent many years as a missionary in Tonga, while D’Arcy was ordained in 1966 and President of the Uniting Church from 1991 – 1994.
Today, with Year 9 students enjoying their second term in the new Dr Wood Learning Centre, Rev Dr Harold Wood’s passion for girls’ education and commitment to diversity and social justice continue to be reflected in MLC’s ethos, curriculum and programs.
Dr Wood’s legacy continues via the Dr Wood Scholarship. For more information on how to help support the Dr Wood Scholarship, please visit our Giving page.