Twelve questions

Sarah Stuart poses 12 questions to well-known faces

Twelve Questions: Maureen Gordon

Maureen Gordon has run the historic Kings Arm Tavern in Newton - Auckland's best live music pub - for the past 28 years. She loves jewellery and travel and goes to Mass each Sunday.

King Arms owner Maureen Gordon says she doesn't recognise the word 'retirement'. Photo / Sarah Ivey
King Arms owner Maureen Gordon says she doesn't recognise the word 'retirement'. Photo / Sarah Ivey

1. How did you start in hospitality?

I was an only child and brought up in my parents' private hotel on Symonds St, the Avonhurst. I grew up in hospitality really. Don't ask me too much about those early days. People will think I'm 150. I boarded at St Mary's College and did music with Dame Sister Mary Leo, and then went to opera school in England for three years. I taught singing over there too before I came home. Peter was a pharmacist and we were married and living with a baby in Hamilton. Hamilton! I said to him, "If my treat is going to be driving around that Hamilton lake for the rest of my life, well ...", because I'd been overseas and seen a few things. So he said, "No, we'll do something else", and we moved to Dunedin.

2. Is that where you bought your first pub?

No, that was the Jolly Farmer in Drury. Oh, I suppose I was about 30. I remember being heavily pregnant and bored upstairs listening to people coming in for dinner, so I came down and Peter said "go behind the bar for a bit if you want to", and I did, then two hours later I was in the car going to the hospital to have the baby.

I just loved it.

3. How did you squeeze in having five children and running pubs?

The children had to come first, I was very firm about that. There are a lot of demands on you but I was very firm with Peter and our customers.

We had to have our own time, especially on a Sunday morning. Sometimes the farmers would come down then and I'd say, "No, we need this time". [Daughters] Maria and Lisa both work with me now. Family comes first. Always has.

4. Has it been a hard life?

Peter died 20 years ago and that was tough. We had three pubs - this one, one in Sydney our son was running, and one in Newmarket. The day of Peter's funeral one of the men said "what are you going to do?". I knew I'd be lost without this. We sold the other two and kept the Kings Arms. I said to all the men: "I can't be Peter, I can only do the best I can. If you don't like something, come and tell me." Some of them gave me a very hard time.

5. Did you have to be tough?

I had to be the boss. I wasn't scared - I'm not scared of anybody. But a few times I had to put [regulars] out so they knew what was what. I'm totally honest with people, customers and the staff. My problem is that I probably rub people up because I tell it how it is.

6. Are you broadminded?

You have to be in this job. Oh, I hear things in here that would make your hair stand on end. But I'm extremely broadminded. I've got [someone] who has been drinking here forever and her occupation, well, I wouldn't be talking about it. But she talks to me and I talk to her. What she does, she thinks is great and I say "how have you been?". There's no judgment at all. She brings me in homegrown tomatoes.

7. Did you ever think about remarrying?

When I first started, a couple of the men were quite rude to me and I would go out and look at a picture of Peter and think, "what would he do?". I still do that when I'm unsure of something. I couldn't imagine myself with anyone else. I never climb my stairs at night without thinking of Peter. Family's everything to me. My five children, my 14 grandchildren. I've been very lucky.

8. Is it unusual that you're a publican and a regular churchgoer?

A lot of publicans were Catholics once upon a time. I don't see anything odd in it. No, I've never been a drinker. I'll go home and have a brandy and ginger ale at 6pm but that will be it.

I'm into the horses though. I've got shares in three horses. I've always been tied up with Lance O'Sullivan's lot.

I'm a great Warriors person too. Oh yes, they're in a bad way at the moment. But I've always liked that Eric Watson. He was behind me once at the races and asked who I was backing. He said, "I'll bet on that one too", and when it came in, he came over to thank me. I thought, "he doesn't need to talk to a white-haired lady like me", let alone come and thank me.

9. A lot of well known bands have played at the Kings Arms: do you like the music?

That's my daughter Lisa's doing. She gets them all in. We like to have a variety. The White Stripes famously played here before they were big. Liam Finn was in a couple of weeks ago. Do I like it? Not really, to be honest. I'll hear the odd one and think "oh, that's quite good". I always hear the tune-ups in the afternoon and that's enough, thank you. At 5pm I can't get in my car quick enough sometimes.

10. Who's the most famous drinker you've had in the pub?

One night that English fellow was in, Bob Geldof. He came and had a Guinness. And my barman once told me he'd had to throw out a very famous underage drinker. It was Lorde! She was out on the deck at some private function, but he was just tricking about throwing her out.

11. Has the bar scene changed over the years?

Oh yes. The Viaduct changed a lot. All the young people go down there, that's why the music has been good for us. Every new bar that I see I will probably be there that first week talking to them. I'll ask about the fitout or whatever. I take an interest in it. Other people don't look beyond their own bar but I think this life has to be a passion or else why bother doing it?

12. Will you ever retire?

I don't recognise that word. I do recognise that you can't go on forever and there are a lot of things that have changed. I have to be up with the changes. But while I'm well and enjoy it, I'll be here.

- NZ Herald

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