For services to philanthropy: Ray Avery

Ray Avery - inventor, humanitarian, philanthropist and a good, down-to-earth Kiwi bloke who knows how to handle a nailgun - has had one of the best Christmases of his 64 years.

Sir Ray is made a knight in today's New Year Honours, just over a week after his wife, now Lady Anna, presented him with what he has called a most glorious Christmas present - a daughter, Anastasia, born on December 23.

"All the gongs have come at once," he said.

Sir Ray, named New Zealander of the Year in February by Prime Minister John Key, becomes a Knight Grand Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to philanthropy. It is one of the country's highest honours.

The scientist has used his skills to improve the lives of the world's poorest people with several inventions.

He set up the independent development agency Medicine Mondiale, which creates affordable products to improve access to quality healthcare on a global scale.

He has also developed production of inexpensive interocular lenses to restore sight to millions of people, and helped to establish factories making the lenses in Nepal and Eritrea.

Sir Ray was born in England but bristles slightly when called a Pom. Within nine months of arriving here in 1973, became a New Zealand citizen.

"From the moment I stepped off the mainland of England I was on a journey to find home and when I stepped on to New Zealand I found it."

New Zealanders had an inventive gene "innately impregnated in our DNA", he said.

"More importantly than that, we are a can-do country. The country I left behind in England was not a can-do country."

After running away from home to get away from his parents, he lived for several months under a railway bridge near Finsbury Park, east London, and dreamed of owning his own bicycle shop.

"The thought of being a knight was very, very far from my imagination.

"But I came to New Zealand in the early 1970s and fell in love with New Zealand and it is great to be recognised and loved by the country you love."

However, his knighthood was not just about him, Sir Ray said.

"It is about the labyrinth of scientists and technicians who all donate their time for free to make sure the stuff we do happens, so I was happy to accept the award on their behalf as much as mine."

He spoke about his award as he and his Greek father-in-law built a deck at his Mt Eden home using his own nailgun. "I don't think you are a proper Kiwi until you own your own nailgun and know how to use it."

From an early age he began pulling things apart to see how they worked.

Sir Ray said he had never been much for titles. Some people would call him Sir Ray but others would call him Mr Ray, as they had done for a long time as a sign of affection, and that was fine with him.NZPA