Cyril Vincent Walter was born at Nelson on 4 December 1912, the son of Carolena Jean Young and her husband, Reginald Richard Walter, a customs officer. In 1924 he won an entrance scholarship to Christ’s College, which he attended until 1930. After working as a clerk for a Christchurch accountancy firm, Best and Wilkinson, and attending Canterbury College part time, he took up teaching. From 1936 to 1942 he taught at Medbury School in Christchurch, where he met Alec Ostler, a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand and fellow hockey enthusiast; they were to become lifelong friends. During this period Walter developed the left-wing political beliefs he was to hold for the remainder of his life. On 14 November 1940 he married Marie Sylvia Hall in Christchurch; they were to have twins, a boy and a girl.
On leaving Christ’s College Walter joined the Wesley Hockey Club and the Old Collegians’ cricket club. A competent opening batsman, he played open-grade cricket from 1932 to 1951 and represented Canterbury in the Plunket Shield provincial competition in 1946–47. However, hockey was his first sporting love. He joined the Canterbury University College Hockey Club in 1934 and was greatly impressed by the Indian national team’s 1935 tour of New Zealand. Captained by the legendary Dhyan Chand, this team dominated all opposition with its skill and was considered by Walter to be the greatest hockey team ever.
Walter’s logical, analytical mind, combined with his athleticism and competitiveness, underpinned his development as a hockey player. He represented New Zealand Universities and Canterbury, and captained the South Island (1946–47) and New Zealand (1948). He was also awarded New Zealand university blues in 1934, 1935 and 1937. His association with the Canterbury university club as a player and then coach was to span 54 years. He coached its men’s team to the Christchurch club championship every year from 1967 to 1980, and five of his players appeared in New Zealand’s 1976 Olympic gold-medal-winning side. He also led the university women’s team to championship successes in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Walter coached the Canterbury representative team from 1968 to 1981, winning the national provincial championship on seven occasions, and also coached in China in 1981 and 1983.
His long association with university sport saw him awarded the first life membership of the New Zealand University Sports Union in 1960. A member of the national blues panel from 1949 to 1974, he was instrumental in raising the credibility of the blues award, and the stature of university sport, through his uncompromising commitment to standards.
Walter’s passion for hockey and strong views did not always endear him to others, and he was particularly critical of the game’s national administrators. As a result, he was only involved with the New Zealand side during 1954 (as a selector) and to his regret never had the opportunity to coach at the national level. A gifted writer, he was the author of Hockey: from bully to goal (1948), The theory and practice of hockey (1966) and Hockey the gold medal way (published posthumously in 1989). From the mid 1950s to the early 1970s he was the hockey reporter for the Christchurch Press. His frequently humorous accounts of matches often contained harsh criticism of standards, and the game’s national administrators unsuccessfully attempted to have them discontinued. He also contributed to the New Zealand Sports Digest and covered tours of New Zealand by the Indian national team for Indian newspapers the Hindu and Sport and Pastime .
During the Second World War Walter had served briefly with the Army Inspection Department, New Zealand Temporary Service. Late in 1944 he became manager of the Christchurch Co-operative Book Society’s New Regent Street shop, which specialised in left-wing literature, holding this position until the late 1970s. He then became office manager at the Trade Union Centre in Christchurch. Cyril and Marie were divorced in 1973, and on 4 January 1980 he married Therese Mary Brown (née Gillum), a shipping clerk, in Christchurch. He was awarded the Queen’s Service Medal for services to sport in 1987. Cyril Walter died in Christchurch on 23 March 1988, survived by Therese and his daughter.