This summer the Chronicle is bringing you another look at some of the best content of 2019. This story originally ran on March 06, 2019
Ray Stevens was a no nonsense, straight shooter with an immense sense of humour, writes Iain Hyndman.
His innate sense of fair play and his passion for the community around him is what drove Stevens to speak out on issues he felt strongly about.
The long-serving district councillor, who owned Double S Motordrome at Westmere, was well-known for dispensing jokes, opinions, advice and lollipops to his customers.
It was those very attributes, perhaps helped by the location of his service station on SH3, that gave him the almost legendary status he had even among the travelling public — everyone knew, or knew of, Ray Stevens.
Stevens was a passionate advocate for the community and served on many local organisations.
He was a Whanganui District Councillor for 19 years after being elected in a by-election in 1997, leading the infrastructure portfolio for most of his time on council.
He contested the Whanganui mayoralty three times.
A talented sportsman in his younger years, Stevens could have taken a cricket career far, his lawyer and fellow cricketer Gary Spooner said.
"Ray was a talented left-handed batsman and wicket keeper," he said.
"He had played for just about every club in town at some stage, including games as a Wanganui rep player, although I'm not too sure how many. I don't think he scored too many centuries though, probably because of his impetuous nature."
Spooner had a prime example of Stevens' impetuous nature when recounting a story of a match in which he was captain.
"It may have been the first season with the then Wanganui Cricket Club after he had left Marist the previous season. Ray was batting and slammed one skyward toward extra cover where Allan Raisin was shaping up to catch it.
"Instead of attempting a run, Ray ran straight out for Allan and tackled him before he managed to catch Ray out. Anyway the poor umpire didn't quite know what to do, so as his captain I had to escort Ray off the pitch. Looking back it was quite a funny occasion," Spooner said.
While obviously horrendously busy with his work and community commitments, Stevens always found time for perhaps his main passion — breeding and racing thoroughbred horses.
Breeding horses is a long journey and Stevens was in for the long haul.
Success did not come early or readily until Princess Rojuan gave him a few race wins and then in the early 2000s a tough Frenchpark colt (later gelded) gave Stevens a taste of winning.
State Of Origin was trained by Stephen Crutchley, then a relative newcomer to the Whanganui training ranks.
Crutchely prepared most of Stevens' horses during that time and won three in a row with State Of Origin breaking track records in the process.
He was a courageous sprinter that often bullocked his way to victory, He went on to win sevens races in total.
Crutchley, who now prepares horses in Singapore, had nothing but praise for Stevens as an owner, a client and a mate.
"Ray is probably the most decent human being I am likely to meet," Crutchley said from his Singapore base.
"A real straight shooter, you always knew where you stood with Ray. He helped me immensely as a young trainer and through his association with council.
"I can't believe he is gone, he was a true good old Kiwi bloke. I trained many of his horses, but State Of Origin was probably the best.
"He won seven in total, but I think I could have won a Group One race with him if I knew more at the time. Ray loved his horses and got really excited in the lead up to a race. He would call and talk about how the race would pan out.
"He rarely actually came to watch them race live, but he knew how they went every time."
Stevens also bred Our Bandit, a gelding he leased out. While trained by Peter McKenzie at Levin he won five races. Our Bandit is still racing, but from WayneMarshment's Whanganui stable.
Waverley farmer and trainer Bill Thurlow trains Stevens' latest find, Beyond The Fort.
The half sister to Our Bandit was named in honour of Stevens' son Justin who passed away in November, 2017. Both Justin and he called home The Fort.
Beyond The Fort is unbeaten after winning her first to races and is New Zealand Oaks-bound later this month.
Sadly, Stevens fell ill the day she won her second race and did not get to witness that victory.
In his younger years Stevens earned himself a few humourous scrapes with the law. None of his escapades, however, had malice intent.
On one occasion he was charged with impersonating a police officer.
His legal defense and then Wanganui Cricket Club captain Gary Spooner recounts the story.
"From memory some bloke, who I think was 90 cents in the dollar, was acting up one of the pubs around town, the Rutland I think. Anyway Ray stepped in and told the man he was going to arrest him and take him down to the station," Spooner recalled .
"Our defense in court was the definition of 'station', We argued that Ray was actually going to take the man down to the Station Hotel — I don't think Ray was found guilty of that one."
His community service extended beyond council with Stevens also serving several terms as a Whanganui District Health Board.
During his time as a councillor, Stevens headed several campaigns in Whanganui to raise funds for communities affected by incidents such as the Australian bush fires in 2009, the Pike River Mine tragedy, the Northland flood appeal in 2008, and the tsunami in Samoa.
He was a champion for his constituents and for those who felt they had no voice — there was little Stevens enjoyed more than a good old stoush in the debating chambers of local body politics.
Whanganui mayor Hamish McDouall said Stevens was "a great servant to the Whanganui community - always willing to fight for the ordinary citizen".
"My main memory was his good humour - he was always ready with a quip, and even when we disagreed about something during a meeting he would always throw in some wit to keep things civil.
"I saw him just a few weeks ago, and he was keen to stand for the council again this year."