Tony Hambly, an eccentric and well-loved teacher, who taught geography at schools in Zimbabwe and South Africa for 46 years, passed away on October 30, 2015, aged 73.
Anthony Hambly was born in October 1942 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and educated nearby at Falcon College.
His father was a Latin teacher. While Tony also loved the subject and had intentions of following in his footsteps, his father warned of a dying subject with few job prospects. Meanwhile an enthusiastic teacher sparked his interest in geography and Hambly transferred his affections.
He studied for a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and geography at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. He also obtained a teaching diploma which he later followed up with a Bachelor of Education degree through the University of South Africa.
Hambly began teaching in 1964 in Southern Rhodesia. His first post was as a geography teacher at Churchill School in Harare. From there he went on to become head of geography at Jameson High School in Kadoma, then moved to Oriel Boys’ School in Harare, where he was also deputy headmaster.
He moved his family to South Africa in 1978 to take up a post as the head of geography at Treverton College. Over the years he taught all sorts of subjects including Latin, English, music and maths, but geography remained his main love.
“Geography is topical, it’s relevant, and it’s all around you,” said Hambly in an interview in 2011. “It’s about modern life and why things work. It’s a mixture of all subjects — physics, biology, history, economics — geography is at the middle of it all. Geography examines current topics, housing problems, economic problems, why this river runs where it does, why it rains, why it doesn’t rain.”
Hambly believed that the key job of a teacher was to teach critical thinking. He said: “With any subject it’s important to develop critical thinking, not accepting things at face value and simply accepting what people say. If I’ve produced some discriminating thinkers then I’ve succeeded as a teacher.”
This he achieved through an eccentric teaching style. 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 always said to me that he didn’t teach, he ‘told stories.’”
He was also well-known across the country as the chairperson of the Flat Earth South Africa (FESA), an offshoot of the Flat Earth Society, an organization that believes the Earth is flat rather than round. It started as a bit of a joke but became a means of stimulating critical thinking among students.
Hambly was always active in the wider life of the college, producing several dramatic productions, as well as coaching rugby and cricket at all levels. He also served as deputy headmaster between 1980 and 2003.
Outside the classroom, he was part of the team that set the geography exam for the Independent Examinations Board in South Africa. He also edited a number of textbooks for Heinemann.
After 30 years at Treverton College, Hambly moved to Maritzburg Christian School in Pietermaritzburg in 2008 where he taught for two further years before retiring at the end of 2010.
After retirement, he remained actively involved in education, working on new textbooks, generating teaching-support materials, and co-authoring a new atlas for South Africa.
Hambly will be remembered as a quirky but well-loved character. Colleagues and friends paid tribute to someone who taught life-long lessons rather than standard classroom lectures. He is survived by his wife Maureen and their two daughters, Clare and Vivienne.