Inspirational, gutsy Christchurch teacher mourned after dying in sleep

The week has started in tragedy for a South Island school after a teacher died alone at his home in Christchurch.

Shirley Boys’ High School teacher Jarrod O’Sullivan was found dead on Saturday afternoon. It is believed he had lain there for several days before being found.

He was a man with a hilarious, off-beat sense of humour, who had been dealt a harder hand than most people would be able to handle, a close relative says.

O’Sullivan’s uncle Mike Minehan last spoke to him on Sunday and said there was no sign anything was wrong.

“It was one hour of hilarious anecdote sharing,” Minehan said.

“He had a hilarious, off-beat sense of humour. In my opinion, he had guts. I really admired him.”

O’Sullivan moved to Queensland as a child and as an adult worked for the state’s police.

In 1991, an early morning high-speed pursuit ended in devastation, as the vehicle O’Sullivan was a passenger in rolled on a corner, throwing him from the car and into the water.

“He nearly drowned. He was dragged out because he was paralysed,” Minehan said.

“He was dealt a deck of cards that was harder to bear than most people could. He was told he would never walk again, and he did. He was determined too.”

The injury left him in pain, even decades later, and he used the support of crutches, Minehan said.

O’Sullivan wasn’t satisfied with the desk job he was given in the police call centre and moved to Korea to teach English.

“[Korea] was a major part of his life. I don’t know why he chose Korea. He loved Korea and the Koreans loved him.”

O’Sullivan also plotted a move home and a career change.

He studied a double major degree at the University of Canterbury before becoming a Mathematics and ICT teacher at Shirley Boys’ High School.

“He turned his life around with a new career. He had guts and I respected him for that. Not just for dragging himself back onto his feet, that was hard enough, but for him to go to university on his own and successfully do a degree and create a new career, that was really inspirational.”

Minehan said he would miss his phone calls with O’Sullivan.

“We couldn’t have a telephone conversation less than an hour. Apart from being my nephew, I’d describe him as a close friend.”

O’Sullivan was having trouble sleeping in the days leading up to his death and was using sleeping pills to little effect, Minehan said.

“His sleep patterns were quite irregular. Living on his own was tough. Dying in his sleep is a mystery as well.”

The doctor that was called to the scene to certify O’Sullivan’s death estimated he had died earlier in the week.

“We guessed it happened Tuesday.”

O’Sullivan spoke to Minehan last Sunday and also spoke to his 80-year-old father on Monday last week.

Minehan said the father couldn’t travel to New Zealand for the funeral because of Covid-19 restrictions.

O’Sullivan was recently awarded two medals for his time in the police; one from the Queensland police and the Australian Police Service Medal.

He was really proud of the awards, Minehan said.

“The Australia one, it can only be awarded for exceptional service and duty. It’s good that he was recognised for that.”

Shirley Boys’ High School principal Tim Grocott said O’Sullivan was a nice man with a quirky side who was always happy to tell a joke.

Grocott said O’Sullivan, who had taught at the school for more than a decade, was meant to travel to Australia earlier in the year to attend his father’s birthday and accept the police medals, but Covid-19 cancelled the plans.

The medals were eventually sent to him and he brought them into school to show staff.

He was a keen reader and would often bring in books for others to read, Grocott said.

“Jack Reacher kind of books.

“He talked to kids about things that you probably wouldn’t expect, not in a bad way. He had great knowledge. He had a real thing for East Asia. He liked the military and telling us stories about being in the police. Some of our boys really engaged with that and loved hearing those sort of war stories.”

O’Sullivan had been unwell for five weeks and away from school, says Grocott.

“It’s a real blow to the community and to the school and a really sad way for someone to pass away, being on your own at home, not surrounded by family or anything like that.

“That’s the really upsetting and distressing part of it.”

A police spokesperson said they attended a sudden death in Hillmorton, Christchurch, about 3pm on Saturday.

“There’s nothing to indicate there were any suspicious circumstances in relation to the death, and it has been referred to the Coroner.”

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