Well-loved teacher and Flat Earth Society member Hambly dies

2015-11-03 10:46
Tony Hambly points to a map of the Earth in 2011.

Tony Hambly points to a map of the Earth in 2011. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

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Pietermaritzburg - Well-known for his eccentric teaching style and as a member of the Flat Earth Society, quirky and ­well-loved Treverton College ­geography teacher Tony Hambly died last Friday afternoon.

Hambly took a turn for the worse after a heart bypass and did not ­recover.

He had just turned 73.

Well-known across the country as the chairperson of the Flat Earth ­Society, Hambly, the teacher who ­often taught geography from on top of a cupboard, was described as a ­one-of-a-kind teacher with his ­pupils’ best interests at heart.

Hambly’s colleagues and friends yesterday paid tribute to him as “quite a character” who taught ­life-long lessons rather than standard classroom lectures.

Born in Bulawayo in 1942, Hambly completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and geography at Rhodes University and later obtained his Bachelor of Education through Unisa.

After moving to South Africa in 1978, he was appointed head of ­geography at Treverton College and became deputy headmaster in 1980. Hambly left Treverton in 2008, ­moving to Pietermaritzburg and ­taking up a post at Maritzburg ­Christian School.

In an interview with The Witness in 2011, Hambly said that geography was his “love”, although he had ­produced a few drama productions and spent many years cheering on his pupils from the corners of rugby and cricket fields as their coach.

Hambly explained why he was the driving force behind the Flat Earth Society South Africa (Fesa) to The Witness in 2011.

“I was teaching in the sixties when the United States claimed to have put a rocket into space, and they produced this grey, faded photo of Earth looking like a globe. And someone said, ‘This is the end of the Flat Earth Society’. It was discussed at school. Children said to me ‘Why don’t you join?’ I did, initially as a joke, but then I realised these guys were talking sense and I came to believe it.”

Asked if there were other Fesa members in South Africa, Hambly said, “Oh yes, there are members but they tend to be secretive because they get teased so much. They get painted as lunatics by journalists.”

But how did he teach geography when he believed the Earth is flat? “I teach what’s in the syllabus,” ­Hambly said totally straight-faced. “Of course, I tell the kids, ‘For heavens sake don’t say the Earth is flat in an exam, even if you believe it is’.”

He told The Witness, “Life ­membership is a mere R1 000 and there is a R1 million insurance payout to your loved ones if you fall off the edge.”

Fellow Treverton College ­geography teacher Dave Purdon said Hambly was an “absolute character but a teacher at heart”.

“He loved children and he found ways to really connect with them,” he said.

“He was not afraid to reinvent himself and really embraced technology.

“He always said to me that he didn’t teach, he ‘told stories’ and was really well-liked by the pupils.”

Purdon said Hambly’s hallmark was the Flat Earth Society, a society that believes the Earth is flat rather than round.

“He wanted the pupils to think critically, and not just accept the things they were told. He encouraged them to always question the status quo.”

His daughter, Clare Hambly, said she and her sister Vivienne were lucky to have had him as a father.

Hambly is survived by his wife Maureen and his two daughters.

A memorial will be held at St ­David’s Church at 12 pm on Saturday.

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