More than half a century of sports coaching and community involvement by a well-known Levin man has been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Gary O'Brien joined 182 other New Zealanders recognised with a Queen's Service Medal (QSM) for services to youth and the community.

The 66 year old was born and bred in Wellington. He coached his first sports team as a 14-year-old student so has coached sports team for more than half a century.

He said he was surprised and honoured to receive the award, and now a puzzling comment made by one of his sons a few weeks ago made sense.


"A couple of days ago he said to me 'what will we have to call you now', and at the time I just thought that was a strange thing to say".

O'Brien and wife Maree raised seven children - six boys and a girl - in Levin, and he had become a familiar face through his involvement in the community, sport and the arts.

While his sons were avid cricket players, O'Brien's first love was softball. He joined the Miramar Softball Club committee and was a delegate to the Wellington Softball Association as a 16 year old.

He had coached Wellington, Canterbury, and Horowhenua age grade softball teams "but as the kids grew they all played cricket, so you go where your kids go," he said, and the same could be said for soccer as O'Brien had always played rugby.

When the O'Brien family first moved to Levin in the early 80s he was a social worker at a juvenile facility at Hokio Beach, and still had fond memories and was passionate about what was achieved there.

"It was closed down, but it was a great facility. It allowed kids to be kids. A lot were from city street scene and it gave them some respite from their lives and their families," he said.

"It taught them so much. They would fish and what was caught would be delivered to locals around the community."

"I still believe there is a case for these facilities. If it was still going I would still be there. I loved the place."


When the Hokio facility closed O'Brien took a job at Child, Youth and Family as a care and protection coordinator before taking a post as guidance counsellor at Horowhenua College in 1999.

O'Brien has a knack for fund-raising and has helped various groups or individuals raise funds to pursue goals, gear or experiences they would not have otherwise had.

He had helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for these groups through raffles, casino and quiz evenings, golf games or fun walks.

One event raised $12,000 donated to the victims of the Christchurch earthquakes, while other causes included Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-po, the rescue helicopter and breast cancer.

"This community has always been very generous, especially some of the businesses in town that are as generous as generous," he said.

"It takes a village and this is a very giving community."

He had a philosophy that if everyone was to give back to their sport or community group what they taken these groups would always be in good heart.

O'Brien was involved in both the Levin Soccer Club and Levin Old Boys Cricket Club as player, manager and coach, and president for a time, and more recently took on a voluntary leadership role in completing the indoor facility at Donnelly Park.

And while he was heavily involved in soccer in Levin, he played rugby as a youngster and also spent many years as a rugby referee.

Where his face might also be familiar was through his involvement with the Levin Performing Arts Society where he has worn more hats, with time as production director, stage manager and catering manager.

At Horowhenua College he had overseen Stage Challenge performances for many years, helping develop and manage the CYN Concert (Celebrating Youth Nua), an annual music and dance event for local primary schools and colleges.

O'Brien has also been Eucharistic Minister and musician for St Joseph's Catholic Church since 1984.

The QSM goes with a Horowhenua District Council Civic award he received in 2012.

O'Brien was retiring from his school duties this year and saw wellbeing as a key topic in the future. He was optimistic that with the release of the Government budget last week there was a strong focus on mental health.

"Over the last few years I've been very concerned about support agencies. The situation is broken. I am pleased they are saying they need to do something. I hope they can fix it," he said.

O'Brien said it was no good sticking your head in the sand and throwing money in the wrong direction. He felt empathy for those involved in the mental health sector.

"There is poor mental health support and it's the kids that have suffered. If this room could talk it would make your hair stand on end," he said.

"But when you see kids come through the other side, kids you've dealt with 10 years ago, I am rapt to be part of a school that has played a part in that."

"I've met some amazing kids - stunning kids. I'm going to miss it like hell. I've been privileged in so many ways."