Earlier this year, one of the oldest residents in our little village passed away. Harry was something of an icon around our district, he first came to Waipara back in the early 1940s on a short term railway posting and, 70 years later, he was still a local icon.
Harry was an inspirational figure, and pretty much every building and organisation in town bears his handprints - either literal or metaphorical. He was an important figure in the local volunteer fire brigade, the Scout group, the Lions Club and many others. He was a central figure in creating many of the public buildings that are well-utilised even today. Harry was, in the truest sense of the words, the quintessential "good bugger." He would do anything for anyone and lived a full and rewarding life knowing that he had given more than he had taken.
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Harry was a modest chap, every time someone pointed out what an inspirational figure he was, he'd reply, in his low, slow, salt-of-the-earth voice: "Well, you know, I always say that I've been very lucky."
Harry was never one for self-promotion, and only a few people were privileged to be invited into his lounge to see the special lifetime award the Lions Club presented him a few years ago.
I was reminded of Harry's modesty the other day when I read an article about Rob Fyfe - former CEO of Air New Zealand and Icebreaker and recently departed tsar of the Government's Covid-relief big business committee.
In the article, it was reported that Fyfe has finished up in his role (which was, apparently unpaid) and was somewhat perturbed that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern hadn't personally thanked him for his service. According to the article, Fyfe confirmed to the Herald that three weeks on the Prime Minister has yet to acknowledge his letter.
Nor, apparently, had Ardern thanked him for the leadership that he and his private-sector team brought to organising vital personal protection equipment for frontline health staff, ventilators and a world-class contact tracing app to cover clear inadequacies within the New Zealand health system.
"It was surprising," was Fyfe's comment.
Where to start?
At my high school, our weekly assemblies had a feature in which the amassed student body would mumble the school litany. One line that has always stood out to me went thusly: "...and by taking away when we leave this place, a desire to serve our world, may we Do Justly." Do Justly was, you see, the school's motto and what those who penned the litany were trying to get into us was that the rest of our life's meaning, would be measured by how well we took that advice and served our world without expectation of fanfare or reward.
Now I am well aware that Fyfe and his team did great work over the Covid period. The shipments of PPE that he, Sir Stephen Tindall and others arranged were hugely valuable. but there's the thing, that value is intrinsic. Simply having served their country should be reward enough. And expecting some kind of title or praise leaves a bad taste, at least in the mouth of this commentator.
The months of the Covid crisis saw everyone stand up. We were, as our Prime Minister so often tells us, a team of five million. And like any team, we achieve the best results when everyone contributes and every contribution is equally appreciated. Those countless health system workers, those doing the hard yards in rest homes, the teachers all trying to do their best with distance teaching - they, and everyone else in the team of five million are all heroes.
Reflect upon the attitude of Ashley Bloomfield, the director-general of health who refused to take personal credit for anything, but rather deflected that credit on to his team within the ministry and the wider population of Aotearoa.
Harry passed away just before the pandemic. Indeed, his funeral, an affair attended by every community group in the district, was one of the last allowed before limits on social gatherings were instituted. I wonder what he'd make of those looking for the baubles and bouquets to celebrate their contribution towards the nation's safety.
- Ben Kepes is a Christchurch-based investor and entrepreneur.