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Harry Dixon Erlam
19 Apr 1920 - 13 Dec 2006

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Harry was born in Auckland less than 12 months after his newly-married parents had immigrated to New Zealand from London. Named after his father, Harry, and after his grandmother whose maiden name was Dixon, he was often referred to as ‘HD’ amongst family and friends

When Harry was 1 year old he received a rather unusual (in consideration of his age) present from his mother. It was a book of 1010 pages, entitled ‘A History of the British Nation’. Harry’s mother Gladys inscribed it ‘To my dear little son Harry for his first birthday, 1921’. Harry later wondered whether this book was a portent of his later passion for books and of his career as a librarian. It was certainly the first tome in a very large later collection of personal books which were stored in his study, in the roof of his house, in his garage, in short, wherever he found space.



Harry with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth
at the official opening of the Auckland
Medical School in 1972

Harry displayed early on the sense of responsibility that often goes with being the eldest child. When the family moved to Wellington they lived for a while at Seatoun Heights and Harry would take his two younger sisters down to nearby Worser Bay to play or paddle among the rock pools. When it was time to come home their mother would put a towel in the one of the windows that they could easily see from the beach. Someone once expressed doubt as to whether it was safe for the three children to play down at the beach on their own, whereupon Harry’s mother remonstrated as to how reliable and responsible Harry was.

At school Harry developed a life-long love of learning and, excelling early on at French and Latin, a love of learning languages in particular. His skill in Latin was quickly recognized by his classmates who often asked him to lend them his homework before school in the morning. Harry complied but always asked them to make some alterations in their answers, notwithstanding on occasion the cheat was caught and Harry was warned as to his involvement in the affair. In 1935 Harry was placed first in the Upper Five. His excitement was so great, that rushing home to convey the news of his success to his mother, he forgot to look when crossing the road and was nearly run over!

However, Harry’s achievements were not confined to the realm of academia. He also showed considerable skill with his hands. As a young man he learnt to knit and completed a number of jerseys. But his skills were quite diverse: when his mother bought the first family car in 1939, an Austin Sherborne, Harry built a garage under the direction of the next door neighbour. It was a simple frame structure with a corrugated iron roof. Later Harry would undertake home renovations and became quite adept at fixing his own cars when the need arose.


Harry at work in
The Boston Medical Library in 1953

Around about the time that the young Harry was entering his teenage years, his mother, Gladys, realized from reading the New Testament that she needed to believe in Jesus. She began attending the Open Brethren church and took her husband, who had since become a believer, and the family with her. Through a school contact they then became involved in the Exclusive Brethren church, leaving the Open Brethren, and attending regularly for the next 10 years. Harry later referred to this as a dark period in his life. Although he had realized his need for a personal faith in Jesus, he found the teachings of the Exclusives too restrictive. They demanded strict separation from the world and in particular, as war broke out, required all members to refuse any involvement with the war effort, a difficult position for a young man at the time. It was with relief that the whole family left the Exclusive Brethren in 1943.


For the rest of his life Harry remained a committed Christian and attended the Open Brethren church where he held a number of leadership roles over the years.

Following his discharge from the army in 1946 Harry got a position as charge librarian at Massey Agricultural College, necessitating a move for the family to Palmerston North. While in Palmerston North Harry completed his BA degree through extramural study from Wellington, a considerable feat given that he already had a fulltime job and had no possibility of attending lectures. Palmerston North was significant in Harry’s life for another reason, too: it is here that he met and began a long friendship with Emily Mulinder. It was not until 1953 however, that he asked her to marry him. She was working as a telephone operator at the time and Harry sent her a telegram of just two words: “Will you?”

In 1951, after careful consideration, Harry and his mother moved south to Dunedin for Harry to take up a position as Librarian of the Otago Medical School. Harry was pleased to be in a bigger library but immediately became aware that the library needed to be brought up to date. In 1953 Harry gained a Rockefeller travelling scholarship to study and visit other medical libraries in the US. He sailed by ship and was away for 10 months, fitting in as much sightseeing as he could along the way, and finishing up at the First International Congress on Medical Librarianship in London. Ten years later he was able to attend the Second International Congress – this time it was in Washington and Harry flew.

Harry and Emmie married in 1954. A few years later saw the arrival of a daughter, and soon afterwards, a son.

In 1968 Harry and Emmie and their young family moved to Auckland for Harry to take up the position of medical librarian at the Auckland Medical School. The library was still being built as Harry arrived so he was in the position of starting the library from scratch. When he retired he had built up a collection of over 30,000 books. He had also coped with some library disasters, including a shelving collapse and a couple of floods. One of the highlights of Harry’s time at the Auckland Medical School was the visit of the Queen for its official opening in 1972. Harry had the job of welcoming her to the library and the photo of him with her always took pride of place in Harry’s living room at home.

During his years in Auckland in particular, Harry got involved in editing work for friends and later when he retired for former colleagues on a part time basis. Harry had always had a love of and a fascination for words and his precision and meticulous attention to the written word earned him high praise.

Sadly, after nearly 40 years of married life together, Emmie died in 1993. Harry took a trip to the US to visit his newly married son and then to the UK/Europe to visit his daughter. However, he struggled with the loneliness that at times seemed to overwhelm him. In 1996, he married an old friend of the family, herself also a widow and together they set up home in Taradale, Hawkes Bay. Emmie had never been one to travel, but Noeline was happy to accompany Harry so he made up for lost time! They went on a number of trips, to the UK and Europe, to Singapore and Australia amongst others.

Harry died suddenly and unexpectedly at home just days before a planned trip to Auckland to celebrate Christmas with his daughter and son and his family. Not long before he died he finished a small volume of memoirs written for his family. He concluded it by saying that he had lived a most satisfying life and that he would not have wished it to be any other way.



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