Key Points:

The news on the first day of 2008 featured a national honour awarded to an expatriate transport tycoon this country hardly knew. Owen G. Glenn was a name on an imposing new building at Auckland University. He was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit not only for the $7.5 million he had contributed to the business school but for donations over many years to worthy causes in a country he left in 1966.

The events that were to keep him in the news this year are too fresh in the memory to need mention here. But one element of the saga has gone too little noted and the year should not pass without it being observed. The lengths to which Owen Glenn went to ensure the truth became known were a testament to a commitment to this country that is truly remarkable in someone who left it all of 42 years ago and made his fortune and several homes in the wider world.

The misleading qualities of a minor player in New Zealand politics must have seemed very small beer from Mr Glenn's vantage points in Monaco, London or Sydney overseeing a logistics empire with operations in 177 countries. He did hope this country would make him its honorary consul on Monaco, perhaps for his own business purposes as his former political beneficiaries claimed, or perhaps because he simply would have relished carrying an official badge of this country.

It would have been the smallest diplomatic reward imaginable. He had been the largest donor to the Labour Party for the 2005 election. In some countries, notably the United States, a donor of that standing could expect a plum ambassadorial post. He plainly hoped to advance his cause by helping Labour's partner and Foreign Minister pay a legal bill but by the time Winston Peters went into public denial of the donation, the consulate was a lost cause.

Mr Glenn did not sound like a vindictive man when he took steps to straighten the record. He answered reporters' questions in an open, candid manner, sometimes too candid about casual conversations with Helen Clark. He did not seem to hold a grudge against her despite the disgraceful way she had snubbed him at the opening of the business school. But he was clear and straightforward on the questions that mattered: who asked him for money, how it was to be paid, where it went.

When his word was challenged before Parliament's privileges committee he cared enough to come back to the country with telephone records and allow us to compare his candour and consistency with that of Mr Peters. It was no contest. He probably does not appreciate the full scale of the good he has done for New Zealand's public life.

In the 42 years since he lived here he has been far from a stranger to the country and its politics. But the particular poisons that Mr Peters preached when it suited him, the language he used and postures he took to pretend he was uniquely honourable in New Zealand politics, would not have been as evident to the occasional visitor.

Mr Glenn would be less than human if his attachment to his country has not been soured somewhat by his experience of its politics this year. His year-old medal probably feels a little tarnished but he should be assured it is not. He has repaid the honour a hundredfold, not so much by discrediting a political poseur but by simply demonstrating how much this country can still mean to someone who has been gone so long and done so well.

New Zealand agonises these days about the numbers of its young who migrate for larger incomes and wider opportunity. We probably worry too much. Owen Glenn was an extreme example of the attachment that many, probably most, expatriates share. It is something we must honour and nurture. We need to let him know.