Wayne Thompson

Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

New Year Honours: Sir Bob Harvey

Sir Bob Harvey, pictured at his beloved Karekare Beach, insists that becoming a knight will not make him an establishment figure. Photo / Dean Purcell
Sir Bob Harvey, pictured at his beloved Karekare Beach, insists that becoming a knight will not make him an establishment figure. Photo / Dean Purcell

Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to local body affairs and the community.

The wild west coast surf is in Bob Harvey's blood. At 4.30pm, the 72-year-old had just finished a day on patrol, proudly wearing the red and yellow uniform with the badge of the Karekare Surf Life Saving Club.

Excitement was in his blue eyes as he broke the news: a West Auckland charitable trust was putting $10,000 towards the club's 7- to 14-year-olds' programme. He hopes that boost lets youngsters catch the wave of community service - as he did.

His 58 years in lifesaving and love of the Waitakere Ranges began as a city boy cycling out to the black sands and gnarled cliffs of Karekare. "My life took off when I joined the surf club here at 15. I was raised here by the surf club. I was raised with these guys and that was an amazing journey."

Sir Bob retired this year as president of Surf Life Saving New Zealand. As a former advertising wizard, he knew how to push that organisation's case for public support but he used other, acquired skills, as a writer and historian, to tell its story. He spent three years on the book Between the Flags - a history of its first 100 years.

"I was one of the architects of a new life-saving team in Auckland in the 1960s and 70s, changing from rescues with reel and line, to helicopter, to RIB inflatable and then fins and tubes. Faster, speedier lifesaving.

"The honour is a tribute to surf life- saving and I'm the first to be honoured in its 102 years."

These days he swims with the aid of fins but he had plenty of kick without them in his 40s when he powered across the rip of the Manukau Heads and, one time abroad, followed in the wake of a literary hero, Lord Byron, in swimming the Dardanelles from the European side to the asiatic Turkey side.

He also channelled his surfer's stamina and desire to help into other forms of community service.

He was the confident, "Westie" pride-raising Mayor of Waitakere (his "eco city") for 18 years - a record of service beaten only by Sir Barry Curtis' 24 years in Manukau.

Undefeated in the polls, he was made redundant by the creation of the Super City in November 2010.

It gave him a breather to update Untamed Coast - his history of the ranges, which sold 30,000 copies.

Becoming Sir Bob will not make him an establishment figure, he insists. "I have always been and will die a liberal. In other words, I look for new ideas. I see the good in people. I am able to get the best out of people."

He and Lady Barbara, a retired midwife, have five adult children.

- NZ Herald

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