By: Gregor Macaulay
Jim McCready, for many years New Zealand’s leading heraldist, died in Dunedin on 18 December 2012, aged 89. His funeral was held on 21 December.
James Macintosh McCready was born on 10 February 1923 in Dunedin and, except during the Second World War, lived and worked there for his entire life.
He began a long and loyal association with King’s High School (founded 1936; Scottish arms matriculated for both the school and its Old Boys’ Association in 1960) in Dunedin as a pupil from 1937 to 1940. In 1941 he enrolled for an Arts degree at the University of Otago (founded 1869; Scottish arms granted 1948) and also began teacher training at the Dunedin Teachers’ College. However, his studies were interrupted by war service, initially in the Army (in New Zealand) but later as a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force (in New Zealand and the Pacific). He returned to the University in 1946 and completed the requirements for a BSc degree in 1948 and for a BA degree in 1950. He undertook his Teacher’s Certificate (completed 1950) concurrently at the Teachers’ College and his record describes him as follows: “quiet manner and pleasant disposition; excellent academic ability; well-balanced type; excellent promise as a teacher; splendid College record”.
He married Maida Whyte in 1947 and they had two children, Christopher (Kit) and Lynley.
He returned to King’s High School, as a teacher, in 1950 and, rising to be Deputy Rector, remained there until his retirement in 1980. The rigour and quality of his teaching is remembered with gratitude by his past pupils. He was also active in the school’s Old Boys’ Association, serving as President in 1958-1959 and again in 1983-1984, and was instrumental in arranging for a crest, “which may be used badgewise”, and associated motto to be granted to the school in 1984.
Jim’s interest in heraldry had been sparked after his return from the war, when he set out to carve a Perspex brooch of a knight on horseback for Maida and, with typical thoroughness, sought to make the heraldic detail on the painted shield as authentic as possible. His interest was nurtured by Dr Morris Watt of Dunedin, who was largely responsible for the flowering of civic and educational heraldry in New Zealand in the middle of the twentieth century.
Jim joined the (English) Heraldry Society in 1952 and was made an Honorary Fellow in 1997. He joined the Heraldry Society (New Zealand Branch) – now the Heraldry Society of New Zealand – in 1963, was awarded a Fellowship of the Society in 1972 and was its Vice-President from 1980 to 1983. He was Editor of the New Zealand Armorist from 1983 to 1999, and was awarded the title of Emeritus Editor in 2000, having been made an Honorary Life member in 1999. He joined the Heraldry Society of Scotland in 1979, and was an Associate Member of the Society of Heraldic Arts from 1996, a member of the Church Monuments Society (London) from 1980, and a member of the Bookplate Society (London) from 1999.
He was a member of the Dunedin Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists from 1973, and served as Dunedin Branch Chairman from 1975 to 1977. From 1975 to 1985 he conducted evening classes in heraldry and genealogy in Dunedin, and in 1983 lectured at the First and Third Australasian Congresses of Genealogy and Heraldry, receiving a Merit Award.
Jim built up an outstanding heraldic library and also compiled annotated scrapbooks and albums of a wide range of heraldic and related material, with special strengths in New Zealand heraldry, heraldic art (he had a particular interest in Germanic armorial design, heraldic stained glass, and philatelic heraldry), arms and armour, seals, and bookplates.
Although not formally trained, he was a talented and prolific heraldic artist, producing work for the Armorist, bookplates for himself and others, Christmas cards, and, most notably, for The Green Book of St Lazarus, a roll of arms either granted to or assumed by members of the Order of St Lazarus in New Zealand. He encouraged members of the order to regard possession of arms as an indication of their commitment to one of the prime objectives of the order: the promotion and maintenance of the principles of Christian chivalry. He also introduced thousands of boys to heraldry by displaying his work throughout King’s High School: one old boy says that he learnt more about art from Jim than from any art teacher.
Jim had joined the Order of St Lazarus as a Commander Companion in 1962 and his contributions to its activities were reflected in his promotions: KLJ (knight) in 1973, KCLJ (knight commander) in 1993, appointment to the Order of Merit in the rank of Knight in 1986, and the award of the Gold Cross in 1993. Jim was appointed Kowhai Herald of Arms for the order in 1995 and edited The Lazarite, the order’s journal in New Zealand, from 1998 to 1999.
Failing eyesight in recent years limited Jim’s artistic work, but his enthusiasm for heraldry remained undimmed.
Jim arranged a Scottish grant of arms to his father, Stanley McCready, in 1976 and inherited the undifferenced arms on his father’s death in 1988. The quarterly fess and trefoils are features of other McCready arms; the narcissus reflects Stanley McCready’s passion as a grower and hybridiser of daffodils; the cabbage trees (making their first appearance in heraldry) give a distinctive New Zealand touch; and the compass crest alludes to Jim’s war service and illustrates the motto.
Jim’s contribution to heraldry and the Society has been considerable, as editor, artist, author of innumerable articles, lecturer, and mentor. He put the Armorist on a sound footing after a period of irregular publication, and his articles on heraldic art and artists, arms and armour, and other aspects of heraldry dealt not only with the heritage of the past but also with contemporary uses of heraldry and future developments – he looked forward to a time when New Zealand would be independent in heraldic matters. His knowledge, wisdom, and encouragement will be greatly missed.
Jim is survived by Maida, his wife of 65 years, who supported him in all his endeavours, his two children, and three grandchildren.
This obituary incorporates information compiled by John Scott and published in the Grand Priory Yearbook of the Order of St Lazarus, May 2011.