There were many layers to the late Morrie Gibbons.

The well-known affable Whanganui identity died on January 3 just a few weeks shy of his 84th.

Art was one of his first loves, but in his day art was not an acceptable job and certainly not a profession.

Far more acceptable to his parents, Charlie and Norma, was signwriting and so began one the most recognised businesses of the late twentieth century in Whanganui - Morrie Gibbons Signs, established in 1958. He retired in 2001.


It still exists today under the guidance of son Nick and business partner Dean Emerson.
A taste of what might have been adorned the walls of Gibbon's home away from home, the Wanganui Golf Club at Belmont in the lead-up to and the day of his funeral service on Thursday, January 11.

Exquisite hand-painted pictures of mainly birdlife gave a glimpse into the artistic head space of a man with presence. Signwriting was to be his artistic release and there remains ample evidence of the talent he had throughout the city.

But it was Gibbon's prowess as an athlete that will linger.

He was a keen and talented golfer and a sprinter with explosive speed on the track (a sharp 9.8sec for the 100 yards) that ultimately led to four matches for the Wanganui rep rugby team on the wing between 1957 and 1959.

For a while, he indulged in track cycling, rugby for Kaierau, badminton, tennis, darts, and later eight-ball. In all of them he repped for Wanganui.

Many tried to find out what made this man tick, and to find out what allowed him to compete against golfers three times as young - and still beat them.

Gibbons, remarkably, has lost just three of 15 singles matches in two years of Manawatu-Wanganui Golf Association's C B Norwood Pennants golf in the 2003 and 2004 seasons when in his early 70s. Bear in mind that all his opponents were much, much younger, capable of hitting the ball huge distances, most of them. Gibbons was an institution.

He built a most unusual record over the years after starting golf around 1954-55 following a couple of years' rowing - in which he and Wanganui Rowing Club team-mates Colin Sewell, Tom Wilson and Graham Mosen won the national novice fours title at the national championships on the Wairoa River.

In a 2005 feature story on Gibbons by then Chronicle sports editor David Ogilvie it was revealed he had his first lesson from Eddie Munro, and purchased his first set of clubs from then Castlecliff pro Jimmy Tunnell.

He started with an 18 handicap, and came down pretty quickly, getting to single figures after about five years. He eventually reached a plus one, took Castlecliff and Wanganui titles in the same year (something only Peter Simpson has equalled) and remarkably made his Freyberg (national teams) debut for Manawatu-Wanganui in 1981 at the age of 47.

"I was the oldest to debut, and still the oldest when I finished (at 58).", he told Ogilvie.

That first Freyberg (called the Tower from the following year), was memorable.

The "new boy" at 47 won his first five games - one of only three players to do so that year. The others were Man-Wang team-mate Neil Gaskin and Greg Turner. Then he lost to another international in Phil Aickin.

Another golfing highlight, and one he didn't play a shot in, was caddying for Wanganui pro Simon Owen in 12 New Zealand Opens, and being Owen's caddy when New Zealand finished third in the international Dunhill Cup (1991) at fabled St Andrews in Scotland.
The golfers had their accommodation paid - but not their caddies. Therefore a tale:

"When we went there, I was looking for somewhere to stay, because Simon and the team were staying at the Russex Hotel ($600 a night) and the Old Course Hotel was $1200 a night. We couldn't get any bed-and-breakfast places, so they made me a Royal and Ancient member for a week, and I stayed in Waldon House, which is right on the course - a little bed-and breakfast place.

"They let me stay there for $75 a night, and I had all my meals with the boys in the other hotel. But I never played the course. I played at Wentworth and Sunnydale later, but not at St Andrews."

Since then there was success for Gibbons in veterans tournaments - in fact, he won the International Senior Veterans' tournament three times (1993, 1998 and 2006).

He still played up to three times a week and kept very fit right up until his death. In fact, Gibbons played a round at Belmont on Tuesday, January 2, then went home where he passed peacefully.

He is survived by sons Antony and Nick and their mother Frances.