For Napier Returned and Services Association (RSA) president and navy veteran John Purcell, QSM, it is always a pleasure to welcome people like the national president of the RSA BJ Clark to the local rooms.

And for people like Clark it is always be a pleasure to make such a visit as it enables him to personally say "thank you" by handing over a rare high honour of recognition for service to one of the association's most devoted stalwarts.

Purcell was awarded the RNZRSA Gold Star and Bar at a special service on Saturday — and the timing was very good as this is his 50th year as a member of the RSA, having joined when he left the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1968.

The honour is the top order for RSA members, or as Purcell put it in true ex-navy fashion "the upper deck".

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Clark told the gathering of association district presidents and guests that over the past century just 19 such awards had been presented — and Purcell was one of just five to be in possession of it today.

"It is a privilege to be accepted for this," he said, adding he was humbled by such events as he never sought publicity for the work he put in for the veterans through the years.

"It is nice to be recognised though."

It was at a meeting of the Napier RSA executive committee in January that it was unanimously agreed to recommend to the national body that Purcell be considered for the highest award.

He got the news about a week ago that it was about to happen, and was delighted the presentation would take place in his "home town".

On the certificate, which accompanied the medal, it states "the association has resolved to award you this Gold Star and bar and to record its appreciation of your unselfish dedication to the ex-service community by placing your name on its special honours list".

Purcell, who has been president for the past 14 years, said his most satisfying moments emerged during his and fellow toiler for veterans Jim Blundell's mission to ensure war pensions were made available not just for the ex-servicemen but also their widows.

"That have me so much satisfaction to get pensions for the women who were left behind," Purcell said.

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"To get the 'thank you' has always been so special."

He said he went after such missions to assist like a "bull at a gate".

"Once I started I couldn't stop."

At this stage, as he approached 79, there was no immediate plan to stand down as president because, as he explained with a smile "they keep putting me back in."

He paid tribute to his most devoted supporter, wife Patricia.

"I have put in a lot of time and she has always been there to support me — I could not have done this without her."

The award service was also a notable occasion for another Napier RSA stalwart, Don Fraser.

He received a Merit Badge and certificate for his years of service to the association.

"Don has does so much for the club," Purcell said.