A call from the Horowhenua District Mayor's office didn't have quite the outcome that local entrepreneur and philanthropist Bruce Little was expecting.
"I was told the mayor wanted to talk to me about a project, but when I arrived in his office, Antony Young, who represents the Horowhenua New Zealand Trust, was also there."
Young and Mayor Wanden told Little he was Business Kāpiti Horowhenua's (BKH) Hall of Fame Laureate for 2021.
"I told them they had the wrong person," laughed Little, "but they said 'we've done the research and you're the winner'."
According to the official scroll, Little was inducted into the Hall of Fame in recognition of his long-standing contribution to business excellence, leadership and standing in business, innovation and entrepreneurship, and service to the community.
Little grew up in Wellington and after completing a science degree at Victoria University, he and his wife Elaine headed to Auckland in 1975, as Bruce was one of 12 students chosen to attend optometry school at Auckland University.
At the end of 1978, the Little family moved to Levin, where Bruce became a partner in an optometry practice, before taking it over completely in 1992 and renaming the business Bruce Little and Associates.
During this period, Levin was predominantly a retirement town with low incomes, so Little went a step beyond in his practice, tailoring his business to his customers' needs, "I wanted to be part of the community as well as a commercial enterprise," he said.
One of Little's community practices was operating a service where people who couldn't afford new frames could bring their old ones in and he would cut, fit and replace their lenses while they waited in reception.
Little also regularly volunteered his time to assist with free eye tests at low decile schools in the region as well as working with the Land Transport agency in the late 1990s to develop eye testing standards.
Despite having retired from the day-to-day business in early 2019 - "I was ready to get out of the dark room after 40-plus years" - Little still gives of his time and experience, and is currently assisting with a research group at Mt Eden Prison to test vision and its relationship with crime.
Bruce Little and Associates is also a big supporter of Auckland University's optometry programme and each year externship students are hosted and mentored at the Levin practice to help them gain valuable practical experience.
One of Little's other interests from the early 1980s was in prescribing lenses for local competition shooters such as the Taylor family and Graeme Ballinger.
"I went out to the local ranges to check how the shape of the shooter's eye was affected by gun placement [so] I could design a suitable prescription for that situation," said Little.
Word soon got around and shooters from all over the country came into Little's practice with their rifles to get their shooting lenses and glasses.
Little's induction into the BKH Hall of Fame was also recognition of his many contributions that have benefited the local community in various ways.
Realising that big community projects often needed seed funding to help them get off the ground, Little founded and chaired the Horowhenua Charitable Trust, the concept of which was to convince local businesses to support these projects by levying a monthly contribution.
So far, the trust has raised more than $175,000, which has helped fund multiple sports and creative facilities, including installation of sound equipment for Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-pō's recording studio.
"We are very grateful to the businesses that have supported this initiative so far and welcome any new businesses who would like to know more to get in touch with me by emailing email@example.com."
Little has also been an active member of the Horowhenua Sports Turf Trust, Crippled Children Society, Heritage Horowhenua, Enterprise Horowhenua, Horowhenua Scottish Society, and the Pipes and Drums of Horowhenua.
Little's passion for the community is shown by a story he shared with us about a client he fitted with more modern contact lenses a few years ago that helped correct cornea irregularities without surgery.
"This gentleman asked if he could wear the new lenses home for lunch to try them out ... when he returned in the afternoon, he said to me 'I couldn't believe how beautiful my daughter is'," explained Little with tears in his eyes.
Local businessman and community champion Bruce Little is obviously a well-deserved recipient of the Business Kāpiti Horowhenua's 2021 Horowhenua Hall of Fame Laureate.