An accidental reunion

History repeated itself recently when two University of Auckland graduates reunited – having not seen each other for more than 70 years!

Aucklanders Gwynne Urquhart and Kathleen Rodgers accidentally reunited at the University’s Golden Graduates Lunch in September and had not seen each other since 1946 when Gwynne sold Kathleen a history book as they undertook their arts degrees. Kathleen, 89, returned the book to Gwynne, now 90, at a special afternoon tea this month - organised by the Alumni Relations and Development office after we heard about their special meeting.

“I always thought I was once seen, never forgotten,” Kathleen quipped after having to remind Gwynne about the history book which still bears both of their names.

But the shared history book is not the only parallel that the pair have shared. Both worked together at Smith & Caughey’s Department Store in Newmarket in the 1940s, with Gwynne regularly heading home in complete darkness on the tram due to the war-time blackouts. Both completed their Bachelor of Arts at University of Auckland and both also ended up as teachers. Gwynne graduated with her BA in 1949 and completed her MA in History in 1951. Kathleen, who undertook teacher training at the same time, graduated with her BA in 1952.

Friends Kathleen Rodgers and Gwynne Urquhart had not seen each other since 1946, when Gwynne sold Kathleen a history book. However, they bumped into each other at a University event, more than 70 years later. Here Kathleen points to their names on the book, which she gave back to Gwynne.

They recall that very few women were studying at the University in those days, with the Common Room having a special section set aside for female students so they didn’t consort with the blokes. Among their lecturers were such luminaries as the poet ARD Fairbairn and historian Bill Airey and lectures were held in the Clock Tower. Books at the library were only available on half-hour loans – a book shortage following World War 2 meant that books were in high demand and low supply.

Limited supplies were also the norm during their student years, working at Smith and Caughey’s. Gwynne says they used to earn about £1 a week. A special allocation of sixpence was given at Christmas time so that they could buy an ice cream at the local New American Milk Bar, which had opened in 1942 on the corner of Teed St and Broadway in Newmarket. A favourite was the “Rangitoto Special” involving three scoops of ice cream drizzled with sauce, Gwynne says.

But, as with their time at the University, linking up with males was frowned upon, she adds. “We were not allowed to talk to boys; the Americans arrived in 1942 and that was a worse threat than the Japanese!” Gwynne recalls one Epsom Girls Grammar student getting roundly told off for being seen at a dance with a member of the opposite sex.

Restrictions were also in play at Smith and Caughey’s, with Gwynne having a pair of scissors in her work dress – black or navy, thank you very much – in order to cut ration coupons which were used not only for food but also for the rather dowdy dresses available for purchase during the war. And if anyone wanted sanitary pads, they were kept well hidden beneath the counter and despatched in brown paper packages.

While it’s more than 70 years since they last saw each other, both have had remarkably similar careers with both becoming teachers. Since retiring both have assisted as a reader-writer for students doing exams, as well as regularly attending the Golden Graduates lunch held every year for the University’s much-valued older alumni and former staff who were born before 1948 or graduated in or before 1968.

Next year they plan to again sit together at the Golden Graduates Lunch, delighted that they have reunited after nearly three quarters of a century. And thanks to Kathleen turning 90 in November, being able to share yet another similarity - life as nonagenarians.