Dr Harold Williams has long been featured by Guinness World Records as the world's greatest linguist. He spoke 58 languages.
Back home in retirement for 11 years after working for 33 years overseas, I've met only one fellow Kiwi who knew Williams' story well.
Aged 23 in 1899, the Auckland-born probationary Methodist minister left for Europe in search of the answers to such questions as how poverty and inequality might be lessened. After three years at Munich University he gained a doctorate in philology. At times he starved.
From 1905 to 1920 Williams was a journalist for several quality English newspapers in Russia. In 1914 he wrote the highly acclaimed book Russia of the Russians.
The Russians considered that Williams had unequalled knowledge of their extremely complex, multilingual and multi-ethnic country.
From 1922 until his death in 1928, he was foreign editor of the Times of London and became known as the greatest foreign correspondent of his age.
Sir Austen Chamberlain, Britain's secretary of state for Foreign Affairs, described Williams' death as "in a very real sense a national loss".
I discovered Harold Williams' story while researching the well-received 2009 book Russian at Heart: Sonechka's Story which I co-wrote with my wife Olga, whom I met and married in Paris in 1962.
Russian at Heart is based on the memories of Olga's remarkable White Russian mother Sonechka who fled from the Bolsheviks in 1924 to war-torn Shanghai.
The White Russians numbered one to two million. They fled worldwide from the vengeful Bolsheviks whose pernicious and highly effective global propaganda vilified these predominantly middle class moderates.
These White Russian refugees considered Williams their greatest friend. He witnessed how the barbarous Bolsheviks had annihilated imperial Russia's governing class and subsequently how they subjected the hapless captive Soviet citizens to a virtual hell on earth.
Williams' articles condemning the Bolsheviks infuriated them -- especially their London representative Maxim Litvinov who described him as "Russia's greatest enemy".
When Lenin died in January 1924 Williams wrote an editorial in the Times examining his life. It was a searing indictment. However, thanks to Soviet propaganda and the numerous influential Soviet sympathisers worldwide it was largely discounted.
Fifty-two years elapsed before anyone of prominence wrote a comparable condemnation of Lenin, when Alexander Solzhenitsyn's Lenin in Zurich was published in 1976.
Williams was not only a masterful conciliator but charming, self-effacing and prepared to listen to whoever he met and to give advice and help where he could.
Fittingly, his White Russian widow Ariadyna Tyrkova, a former Russian liberal politician, wrote his biography, The Cheerful Giver, in 1935.
She deplored how so few people in the West had heeded her husband's profound understanding of the hell on earth created by the crazed Russian revolutionary mobs incited by Lenin and his followers.
In the 1930s many New Zealanders were passionate communists or communist sympathisers. They included two Rhodes Scholar idealists in search of a better world: James Bertram and Ian Milner.
Bertram, who survived the horrors of Japanese prison camps in China, returned to New Zealand after the war where he was a lukewarm supporter of Soviet and Chinese communism.
Post-war Milner settled in communist Czechoslovakia where he lived for the remainder of his life.
In my youth our military heroes were the role models. Now they are our performing artists and, especially, sports stars. The achievements of our internationally renowned intellectuals, creative artists, scientists and engineers have never been celebrated to the same extent. Williams is a case in point.
John Hawkes is an Auckland writer, former consultant rheumatologist in England and former New Zealand athletics champion and decathlete.Williams was not only a masterful conciliator but charming, self-effacing and prepared to listen.