Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Remarkable Kiwi puts others to shame

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Sir Owen Woodhouse. Photo / Richard Robinson
Sir Owen Woodhouse. Photo / Richard Robinson

Sometimes, clouds do indeed have silver linings.

Or, in this case, it was the fog that drifted in and shut down Auckland Airport last weekend.

I was waiting in the Napier Koru Lounge for the fog to clear sufficiently to allow Auckland Airport to open and got chatting to fellow passengers, as you do.

Dame Sian Elias was one of those in the lounge and she introduced me to her travelling companion, a beautifully dressed older gentleman, who stood and shook my hand. We exchanged pleasantries and then went back to our respective corners.

I was using the time before the fog cleared to get the hang of my iPad and the older gentleman came over with a cup of coffee and asked me how I was finding the contraption. "Hmmm," I said. "I thought I'd downloaded some novels but they seem to be stuck in the ether." With that, he clearly and concisely explained what I needed to do.

He'd been given one by his children for his 96th birthday and found it absolutely marvellous. Ninety-sixth birthday? Oh the shame of my lack of technical proficiency.

He had listened to radio stations from all over the world on his, he said, and had downloaded all his favourite novels. Was I a fan of Jane Austen? We had a discussion about the merits of Austen versus the Bronte sisters, among various other topics - and time fairly flew.

He was interesting, interested, razor sharp and delightful company.

Once I'd made it back to Auckland, I googled him. I knew he had to be somebody remarkable because he had that presence about him. But I had no idea just how remarkable he was.

Sir Owen Woodhouse.

A member of the Order of New Zealand. A decorated World War II hero. A Supreme Court judge. A Privy Councillor, the man who worked to even up the division of matrimonial property in the 1960s and the architect of the ACC. Devoted husband, father and grandfather.

And a Jane Austen devotee and enthusiastic iPad user.

It shames me that I know the minutiae of Sally Ridge's life - thanks to the media - and yet I had to research this extraordinary New Zealander. Here is a man who deserves column inches in the newspaper over so many others we read about.

I just feel grateful I had the opportunity to meet him.

- Herald on Sunday

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