George John Park was born at Waitaki, Otago, on 12 September 1880, the son of Scottish parents George Park, a draper, and his wife, Christina Dallas. He was educated at Waimate District High School, where he was dux in 1897. Embarking on a teaching career, he was a pupil-teacher at Waimate School (1899–1900) then sole-charge teacher (1901–3) at Waihao Downs School. In 1904 he became an assistant master at Waitaki Boys’ High School and in 1906 taught at Waimate District High School. From 1907 to 1914 he was a senior assistant teacher in charge of the commercial and general department at Christchurch Technical College. On 4 January 1911, in Timaru, he married Mabel Glen Porter.
Park attended Canterbury College and graduated BCom in 1910. He was appointed principal of Wanganui Technical College in 1915 and remained there until 1921. Soon after taking up the appointment he established a boarding house for the college students in Victoria Avenue.
In 1922 Park became principal of Seddon Memorial Technical College, Auckland, the second person to hold the position. He took over a well-organised institution of 599 day pupils and 1,084 evening-class students, where he was able to hire the best staff and thus attract good-quality students. Under his leadership the college roll grew, leading to increased revenue from the government and to additional income from fees. Park was skilled in managing finance and investments, and he equipped the workshops and laboratories with facilities far superior to those in any other technical college in New Zealand. Although he always regarded Seddon Tech as a place for adults, not children, the day pupils benefited from the well-equipped workshops and laboratories. In 1939 there were 1,746 day students (the largest roll in a New Zealand school) and 2,466 students attending night classes. The raising of the school-leaving age to 15 in 1944 resulted in further increases in day enrolments, and throughout the 1940s the buildings and grounds at the college were densely crowded.
Many tales have been told about the vigorous character of George Park. He once told a group of inspectors, who had arrived to carry out their annual inspection, that it was his morning for golf, and they were welcome to come with him if they wished to discuss the school. The inspectors duly followed him around the entire 18 holes. Another incident concerned a teacher who was wandering around Albert Park in a distraught state after a fraught session with difficult boys in the fourth form. Park saw him from a college window, realised the situation and strode across Wellesley Street. He related what happened to another teacher years later: ‘I told the fellow to buck up his ideas, get the kids into line and get back in there. Then I marched him back across Wellesley Street, pushed him inside his classroom and slammed the door. He shaped up pretty well after that’.
With a ruthless and domineering personality, Park ensured that the school controlled its technical education curriculum. Supported by the Auckland Education Board, he argued that ‘those who have been in technical education for 30 years know much more about what is necessary than do members of trade committees’. His domination of the school board enabled him to select staff who shared his educational philosophy without compromising technical teaching. When the Commission of Inquiry into Apprenticeship and Related Matters was set up in 1944, Park argued forcibly that reforms in the apprenticeship system were essential, and that technical schools should provide a general pre-vocational and vocational education in conjunction with apprenticeships because of the diverse nature of local industry.
Park served as secretary and president of the national technical school teachers’ association and was a fellow of the Royal Economic Society, London. He was vice president of the Rotary Club of Auckland in 1937 and secretary-treasurer of the Auckland branch of the New Zealand Crippled Children Society from 1935 to 1949. He also served on the Auckland Hospital Board between 1945 and 1949 and was an executive member of the St John Ambulance Association. He retired from Sedden Tech in 1946, and was made an OBE in 1955.
The Parks moved to Wellington in 1960. George Park died there on 11 July 1977 at the age of 96. He was survived by a son and a daughter; Mabel Park had died in 1963.