Editorial: Priceless time with a legend


Among the tributes that have flowed since Sir Wilson Whineray's death on Monday was a statement that anyone who spent time in his presence came away with something to think about.

And that was certainly my experience when I first interviewed him in 1990.

Having met the former All Black captain through the pages of Terry (TP) McLean's superb account of the 1963-64 All Black tour to the UK, France and Canada, Willie Away, he was a legend in my eyes long before I stood in the same room as him in 1990.

That was at the launch party for Television New Zealand's rugby series, Mud and Glory - a series for which as researcher, I had viewed every available piece of footage from his 1957-65 international career (77 games, 32 tests; 68 as captain, 30 times in tests).

What I remember of that night was that he had a great time, then made a strategic withdrawal as the party passed its sensible best.

It was soon afterwards that he agreed to be interviewed for a book I was co-authoring, One Hundred Great Rugby Characters.

Mr Whineray told me that I could have between midday and 1pm. I was ushered in to his Carter Holt Harvey office, warmly greeted, asked the purpose of the hour, and away we went through the highlights and characters of his career. It was a relaxed chat until the hour was up. And that was that. Not a minute more, not a minute less.

The discipline of the exchange was something new.

When I mentioned the "abrupt" end to the interview to co-author, Joseph Romanos he wisely commented: "You did well to get an hour".

It was my introduction to the seriously busy world of a top business executive. A valuable learning curve.

When I again interviewed Sir Wilson, soon after his knighthood was bestowed in 1998, it was at his house.

His wife, Elisabeth was a charming first line, and away from the corporate environment Sir Wilson was in top form - warm, humorous, happy to chat. I can't remember if he was heading to surgery, or recovering from it, but he was struggling with his knees. Although clearly in pain it didn't stop him from walking me to my car and continuing our discussion roadside.

Those encounters, allied to what I have read and observed, allowed me to come to a full appreciation of the greatness of this extraordinary man - a champion whether at Cardiff Arms or Harvard or in the boardrooms of New Zealand; a leader and winner in sport, business and life.

Esteemed rugby writer Lindsay Knight summed his magic up perfectly when he wrote: "Even if he had not been a fine rugby player and an exceptional man of the game, Wilson Whineray would have gained a significant place in New Zealand society, such were his natural leadership qualities, calm personality and intellectual depth. When he was knighted in the late 1990s it was as much for his contribution to business and the community at large as his standing as one of the greatest of All Black captains."

Getting his full attention on a couple of occasions was indeed a privilege.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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