Big pat on back for Pat Magill, OBE

By Doug Laing doug.laing@hbtoday.co.nz

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PARTY TIME: Veteran social justice activist Pat Magil (right) prepares for his 90th birthday, at home with Jerry Esrom Kaun, from Vanuatu, and Helen Lloyd, of Napier. PHOTO/WARREN BUCKLAND
PARTY TIME: Veteran social justice activist Pat Magil (right) prepares for his 90th birthday, at home with Jerry Esrom Kaun, from Vanuatu, and Helen Lloyd, of Napier. PHOTO/WARREN BUCKLAND

It's hard to imagine a more celebrated birthday than that now kicking into life for seemingly indestructible Napier social justice battler and former businessman Pat Magill, who turned 90 yesterday.

A two-day programme of events over the weekend is planned - essentially nothing much that he might not have been doing anyway.

It opens tomorrow with a "Developing Napier as a Child Friendly City" day at Pukemokimoki Marae and a tribute during the Aotearoa Morehu Day Multicultural Festival at the Marine Parade Soundshell on Saturday.

On Sunday there will be a walk of about 8km from the marae to Taradale for celebrations at Otatara Pa and Waiohiki Creative Arts Village, including an art auction.

But there was an indication it was already under way on Wednesday when Vanuatuan social justice leader Jerry Esrom Kaun arrived in Napier for not only the birthday but also a pilgrimage the pair will make next week to Unicef in Wellington.

It was a special moment in a relationship which goes back just a couple of the more than 50 years Mr Magill has been developing and driving his own unique battling for the underdog.

They met when he and friend Helen Lloyd were in Vanuatu in August 2014 - Mr Kaun stepping in to help Mrs Lloyd up after she stumbled outside his church in Port Vila.

Mr Magill is most identified with the Napier Pilot City Trust, a movement set up in 1986 to drive his city as a leader of social change in response to a 1977 Social Development Council of New Zealand suggestion to Government after a week's forums at the Hawke's Bay Community College (now the EIT) that Napier was, as often quoted by Mr Magill, "a city of around 60,000 population ...not yet too large to learn about itself."

Mr Kaun, 58, sees similar back-to-the-roots, model-for-change hopes for Vanuatu, an archipelago of 82 islands and a population of about 250,000, with significant issues of young people's illiteracy, unemployment, and poverty, and kava and cannabis abuse, which he believes can be addressed by restrengthening families and driving changes in political philosophy.

The bonding was immediate, not least or Mr Kaun's steps to get Mrs Lloyd immediate medical treatment and then helping Mr Magill through the process after he'd lost his passport.

It was all sorted in a couple of days, but the friendship has lasted much longer as they joined arms in the merging of their own already well-trodden paths. Uncanny, some would say. "It was quite funny, really," says Mr Magill.

In what many see as the typical Pat Magill way, the Napier Pilot City Trust concept sparked numerous other initiatives, including the more international Unity walks and weeks begun during the New Zealand sesqui-centennial celebrations in 1990 and campaigns promoting alternatives to imprisonment which with Sensible Sentencing also set-up in Napier at the opposite end of the market have made Hawke's Bay a centre of debate on such issues.

Mr Magill had, however, already been at it quite a while. After all, it is 38 years since he was awarded the OBE in 1978 for what was already a well-established commitment to community service - the Lions club, rugby, and the YMCA, as examples.

He was a chairman and president of the Napier High School Old Boys Rugby Club, becoming president of the Hawke's Bay Rugby Union during the 1966-69 Ranfurly Shield tenure, in which he had significant roles in encouraging to players to Hawke's Bay and finding work for them in the family carpeting firm started by father Robert Magill.

But the spark for his OBE nomination by 1960-1970 Secretary for Justice and later Victoria University Director Criminological Studies Dr John Robson was his role with the YMCA and the Downtown Y, a Napier CBD activities centre for young people, putting him in close contact with the wall-to-wall family issues and tragedies impacting the lives of many of the city's youth, but also putting him at odds with many of those he associated with in the business community who had entirely different concepts of how they would deal with the city's less fortunate.

His own family tragedy came on October 15, 1994, when wife Catherine died after a car crash in which he was also seriously injured in North Queensland on a trip to visit Jan, a daughter, one of their six children.

Unable to travel from Australia, she will be the only one of the sons and daughters missing when they gather today.

As his wife passed away she told him to keep up the fight, a fight which birthday weekend organiser Denis O'Reilly says warrants all the acclaim it can get.

So what about the big day, yesterday. He had just one real engagement, short of anything which might emerge within his calling, including being a Justice of the Peace, there would be a quick walk from home in Meeanee Quay, to the Westshore, somewhat shorter than the other walks he's been on around the country in recent times. "I think I'll be there at six-clock, for the raffle," he said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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