Twelve Questions: Gretchen Hawkesby

Gretchen Hawkesby is the daughter of New Zealand's richest man, Graeme Hart, and the chairwoman of the Friends of Starship committee, which has raised more than $1.5 million in her time with it. She is a mother of four, drinks Lion Red and has a new business developing property with her brother Harry.

Gretchen Hawkesby says she has awesome neighbours in Glendowie - her parents. Photo / Richard Robinson
Gretchen Hawkesby says she has awesome neighbours in Glendowie - her parents. Photo / Richard Robinson

1 Is charity queen a title you like?

No, I dislike it intensely! I am no queen. I am a hard worker trying to raise as much money as I can for children and their families at Starship. That said, you can call me whatever you like if you happen to be handing over a large cheque at the time.

2 How would you describe your childhood?

My parents are only 20-odd years older than me, so we have a very close relationship. I grew up with them. They both worked very long hours, so I spent a lot of time with my grandmother. My childhood was extremely happy, our home was always open to all my friends and it still is. I am very lucky that my childhood friends are still my friends today and a number of them are Friends of Starship.

3 How hard does your Dad work?

His brain starts ticking as soon as his eyes open, so you will often find him in his home office at 4 or 5am, and he is home for dinner around 7pm.

He regrets working the hours he did when I was young, so he has been taking a week or so for the school holidays since my brother Harry started school (he is about to sit his final Otago University exams). And he loves holidaying with our kids, so I am sure that will continue.

4 So you didn't see much of him as a child?

Not for parts of it. When I was 12 Dad went to Otago University to do his MBA and we all moved there. For me it meant far more fun with Dad because he was a student and wasn't at work from 5am to 8pm. It was a bonding experience. He was better when Harry came along - we're 18 years apart. Do I have balance? No. In my family life I do. I'm a mum. But at work I'm focused. That's what Dad says to my husband, "Weigh up what you want in your life". Because he did miss out on a lot of stuff when I was a kid.

5 Not many adult children would choose to live next door to their parents (in adjacent mansions in Glendowie): does all that space help?

We have awesome neighbours! We have dinner together at least a couple of nights a week. The kids sneak over to their place and jump into bed with their grandparents, or bounce on their trampoline. We recently renovated and moved home for four months - Dad loved it. Mum's my best friend.

6 Non-charity queens sometimes wonder why, instead of having big social events to raise money, people don't just donate it. Can you explain?

If I asked you for $100 for Starship would you give it to me right now? If I offered you an auction item worth $120 that you might be able to take home for $100, would that make it easier for you to give me $100? Fundraising is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people are content to give a gold coin or a cheque ... others prefer to engage with like-minded people as part of the process.

7 Aren't your friends wealthy?

No, and neither are my parents' friends. None of my parents' friends are wealthy.

8 Your mother has painted a picture for your home of a woman drinking Lion Red. You don't drink that, do you?

I love Lion Red. It's my favourite beer. If you did a blind taste test for beers, it would win. It's the best.

9 Your father-in-law is John Hawkesby and sister-in-law is Kate. How would you describe a Hawkesby family gathering?

Loud!! There are 11 grandchildren in the Hawkesby clan, so the noise is off the scale. The adults aren't much better, there is always a lot of laughter. The Hawkesby side is like best friends with Mum and Dad now too. We all go away together. We're going to New York in two weeks to see [husband] Duncan run the marathon. We have this huge Christmas party every year and there are 189 family and friends there. When the kids turn 13, they're allowed to join the adult dinner.

10 Do you understand (brother-in-law) Mike Hosking?

More than I understand the point of this question. I think he's pretty simple. He absolutely adores his wife, loves his kids, loves his job and that's all he really needs in life. I don't think he cares about what others think about him.

11 How does dealing with sick and dying children affect your spiritual beliefs?

I think the families of seriously ill children deserve medals. They have no choice but to rise to the occasion for the sake of their children when the pressure and stress must be unimaginable. While dealing with their ill children, they still have to think about their jobs, their other kids, their own basic needs. It must be overwhelming. I include them in my prayers every night.

12 Why are you stepping down from being the committee chair?

I think there's only so long you can hit your networks. My networks have created a database and if they want to continue they can, but it won't be me hitting them up all the time. I'm staying in the foundation but I've been eating, breathing and sleeping it and my kids are getting older, my eldest will be at college next year, so it's a different stage of life. I'm also building some properties with Harry on Waiheke Island. Dad has helped us set it up and we bought some sections and are designing the houses. I wanted to do something for myself because I'm not a person who wants to ask my husband for money.

•On December 1, the Friends of Starship are holding an Auckland movie premiere of Disney's Frozen. For more information and to buy tickets, visit www.starship.org.nz/frozen

- NZ Herald

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