Obituary: Harry Lapwood

By Phoebe Falconer

Harry Lapwood won the Rotorua seat for National at the 1960 general election. He had served on the local borough council but had not taken a great deal of interest in national politics. His success was as much a surprise to him as anyone else.

He spent the next 12 years as a backbencher, 4 1/2 of them as his party's Chief Whip. He was recognised as having the loudest voice in the House, a relic of his time as a regimental sergeant-major during World War II. He could be heard railing against Labour members' speeches, with his favourite cry of "arrogant socialism".

"I object to arrogance in anyone," he explained in a Herald interview in 1975, "but it's 10 times worse when perpetrated by a socialist."

His views were borne out in a spat with Matt Rata, then Labour member for Northern Maori, when Mr Lapwood suggested Maori should "go back to your pipis".

Mr Lapwood explained his comments were light-hearted, and he was supported by members of his own party, including Prime Minister Keith Holyoake.

His explanation was accepted, and he was reappointed to the Maori Affairs Committee of the House.

Mr Lapwood was made Minister of Tourism in the 1975 National Government and became a strong supporter of development in his electorate.

He pushed for professionalism in tourism, and encouraged the Government to give financial assistance to hotel projects, arguing that tourism would suffer from an accommodation shortage.

Mr Lapwood retired from politics in 1978.

Born in Tuakau, Franklin District, into a flax-milling and barging family, Mr Lapwood lost his mother at four and his father when he was 10.

Brought up by an aunt and uncle, he boarded at Auckland's Dilworth School where he earned pocket money tending the cows on the school's farm. The farming spirit remained with him - his first job was on a dairy farm at Awakeri, near Whakatane.

But between times Mr Lapwood became a policeman, walking the Invercargill beat before joining the Army when war broke out in 1939.

He was wounded in 1942 which left him with only one useful arm - with which he developed a unique golf swing.

Mr Lapwood, his wife Cath and their young daughter settled in Rotorua in 1947 and bought a grocery business.

Mr Lapwood's successor, Paul East, QC, said he was a wonderful people person who made a lifetime's commitment of loyalty and service - "a first-class politician and wonderful raconteur who was one of that old school of MPs who could drink most younger members under the table".

He is survived by his five daughters.

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