He might well have become a farmer, had it not been for a plane ride at an air show.
Ian Gillard was 16 when his mother bought him a spin in a Tiger Moth for the princely sum of 10 shillings. It was the spark that ignited a passion. And it led, eventually, to Gillard becoming Deputy Chief of Air Staff — second in command — of the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Gillard was born on April 20, 1930 and brought up on a dairy farm near Morrinsville. He left school without any formal qualifications, not really knowing what he wanted to do. He was about to take up a farming cadetship at 18, when he was instead accepted for the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
Intelligent but without a single School Certificate subject, Gillard had a lot of catching up to do. He started at the lowest possible rank of Airman and, despite being told he had no chance of becoming a pilot, worked at night and on weekends to complete the physics, meteorology and other studies needed to learn to fly.
By 1953 through perseverance and hard work, Gillard was not only a qualified pilot, he had also shown he was a natural leader. He became a flight instructor and he was one of the first six pilots chosen to fly the Air Force's new Vampire jets, just one of the 30 or 40 different types of planes he flew during his career.
Gillard's son Paul says his father would have started his career flying Tiger Moths and other planes of the 1940s era and he last qualified to fly new aircraft in 1974, the Sioux and Iroquois helicopters, at age 44. He was at that time commanding officer of a helicopter base, and when he heard the young pilots grumbling that an airplane pilot shouldn't be in charge of helicopters, he promptly went out and learned both.
It was as a 22-year-old pilot at Ōhakea that Gillard met future wife Joan O'Connell at a dance in Bulls. They went on to have children Mark, Deborah, Paul and Kathryn. Kathryn was diagnosed with a form of cerebral palsy at about age two, but her disability did not hold the family back.
"Unlike a lot of people who would hide their kids away [in that era], they didn't. Wherever they went, she went, and if they had a dinner party, she would be there, it was just part of the deal. They were very inclusive," said Paul.
I went down and visited him ... in Wigram and he was the head sherang, he was the boss. I sat down in the mess with him and everybody kow-towed, but as a family we didn't think anything of it really.
The marriage lasted 63 years, ending with Joan's death four years ago. Until a year ago, when Gillard became too infirm, he would still collect Kathryn from her Idea Services (formerly IHC) accommodation every Friday and they would spend the weekend together at home.
Gillard flew Canberra light bombers during the Malaya Emergency in the late 1950s and also for a time in 1961 held the speed record for flying the Canberra across the Tasman Sea — two hours, 18 minutes.
In typical Air Force fashion, Gillard was posted to a new place every two or three years — he served in Cyprus, Singapore, Canberra and Washington DC and commanded most of the Air Force bases in New Zealand during his career, although the family always had a home in Wellington. Son Mark says he lost count of how many different primary and high schools they went to. Joan used to recall that she had moved 38 times.
Gillard also spent time in the United Kingdom in 1976 where he was sent to purchase Andover aircraft for the Air Force. Paul says his father "got them really cheap, he got a really good deal".
In 1977, Gillard was awarded an OBE, and in 1981, an even higher honour, the CBE, for "absolute loyalty and dedication", for an exceptional contribution in all his appointments, and for fulfilling a series of "very senior and demanding appointments with distinction". He received both the Air Force Cross and his OBE personally from the Queen and also achieved the rank of Air Commodore.
One of Gillard's most prestigious postings was as New Zealand's last defence attaché based in Washington DC, when New Zealand was still part of the ANZUS alliance.
"He always said he had the best time because we [New Zealand and the US] were friends then so he got carted around everywhere and he was also defence attaché to Canada … of all the postings you could get as an Air Force guy, that was the best one," said Paul.
But to his kids, he was just Dad. Weekends were family time and Gillard was always ready to do things with the children. Paul says he never realised just how important his father was until he accompanied him to an Air Force do.
"I went down and visited him and we had a ceremony at the RNZAF base in Wigram and he was the head sherang, he was the boss. I sat down in the mess with him and everybody kow-towed, but as a family we didn't think anything of it really," Said Paul.
Gillard spent two years as Deputy Chief of Air Staff then three years in Washington DC, then retired in 1984, a year before the Air Force's compulsory retirement age of 55.
He and Joan moved to Taupō where Gillard wrote his autobiography, The Halcyon Years , and spent a bit of his time fishing and playing golf.
It didn't take long to discover that after a busy career, retirement didn't suit him so he took up real estate sales and worked hard, becoming one of the top 10 per cent of Wrightson's agents in the country and very proud of the fact that he made more money than he ever had in the Air Force.
Gillard also turned his considerable talents to supporting the Taupō branch of the IHC, involved for 13 years and as branch president, and also as a member of the national committee.
IHC already had a scheme where farmers would donate a calf to the IHC but Gillard came up with a lucrative variation, where the farmers kept the animal for longer and sold it as a weaner, which was worth more money than a bobby calf. He put his idea into practice, driving around and approaching local farmers, who invariably said yes to such a worthy cause. It soon became the third top earner for the IHC.
In his spare time Gillard enjoyed building and flying radio-controlled planes and he loved technology, keeping up with the latest innovations to stay in touch with his many friends and former colleagues in New Zealand, Australia and America and using Siri to perform tasks for him after macular degeneration set in. He was also involved with the Taupō RSA and Probus and was a doting grandfather and great-grandfather.
Ian Murray Gillard died on April 19, 2019. He is survived by his four children, eight grandchildren, one great-grandchild and two more on the way.