Life can take some strange turns, and if you live 100 years you get to see plenty of interesting events unfold. Lewis Marson has cheated death at least twice, but the most serendipitous moment came in 1941 when a co-worker suggested that he should go and meet her pen friend while he was in Canada training as navigator in the air force. That random suggestion eventually led to a happy marriage to Isabel for 58 years.
Lewis has enjoyed music, surfing, gardening, faith and family over many years. Although he worked as a power company executive and as an airman in WWII, he has now been retired for longer (43 years) than he was employed! Imagine saving for retirement! “I retired in the middle of my life” he says. For the last 23 years he has been a resident at Powley house in Blockhouse Bay. Isabel was with him there until her passing in 2003.
This remarkable life began in Mt Albert on 23 December 1919 as the eldest child. Eventually the family grew with another brother and two sisters. Lewis was educated at Gladstone Primary, Kowhai Intermediate and Seddon Memorial College before going off to work at the Waitemata Electric Power Board (WEPB) at age 14. Although his IQ qualifies him for Mensa and he got through a lot of difficult situations on his wits, formal education didn’t seem to work for him. He later took accountancy but did not complete the qualification due to time and family commitments.
Lewis was fortunate to even reach age 14, having nearly drowned at Waiheke when he was 8 years old. He was on the wharf at Ostend when he noticed some sprats and descended some slippery steps to the landing platform for a better look. He slipped against the piles and was knocked out. He had gone under twice by the time his younger brother grabbed him by his heavy winter coat. He had a slow medi-vac on the steamship Onewa, which was in service between Auckland and Waiheke at the time. The gash on his head required about 12 stitches in Auckland Hospital. “I owe my life to my brother, Ralph,” he says. The two brothers have always been very close and did everything together.
Lewis is a keen and skilled musician; “I have harmony in my system.” He says. His brother Ralph played fiddle. Lewis acquired a piano accordion and sold his stamp album to pay for it. Later on, his musical ability made him very popular especially on the long voyages during the war.
For many at the time, WWII was a period of extraordinary experiences. For Lewis, it was war service as a Navigator with the Royal NZ Air Force. He rose through the ranks to Flight Lieutenant from 1941 to 1945. Following three months training in Levin, further training lasted just on a year in Canada and the UK before he was ready for action in the Middle East. He chose the Middle East because it sounded interesting. He had contracted Malaria in West Africa, and it flared up again, so his crew found a replacement for him. That flight was shot down in flames over the Mediterranean and Lewis cheated death again.
He was proud to be the Navigator in the leading plane of 100 in a massed flight over Cairo, Alexandria and Suez celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the RAF. In 1942 he transferred from Bomber Command after some months in Iraq and based in Cairo he joined many pilots delivering aircraft from West Africa to Egypt, Zimbabwe, and India/Pakistan.
With the war ending it was time to head home via New York. He had it in mind to marry Isabel, and wanted to detour to Canada to propose. He told his CO that he wanted to marry his girlfriend in Canada, and could he have permission for a detour. “No,” was the reply from above, “that’s not in the rules.” But Lewis’s wasn’t one to take a ‘no’ as final. He asked what he needed to do to make it happen, and eventually was called to his CO’s office in Cairo. He needed to send a cable to Isabel to ask her to supply evidence of his intentions of marriage. This was the first Isabel had heard of the matter, but she went along with it anyway. He says “You can do anything if you set your mind to it. Rules can often be worked around”. Lewis was granted a month’s leave in Canada to be married. Isabel had to wait for a bride ship before she could join Lewis, who had gone on by train to San Francisco, offloaded in New Caledonia, and flown home from there by the RNZAF.
Then it was back to working at WEPB. His war time experiences helped him climb the ladder at WEPB, retiring in 1976 from the role of Secretary/Treasurer after stress contributed to a heart attack.
Reflecting on his relationship after he fell in love with Isabel, he says “She agreed to marry me, a man with a property but no prospects at that time. She was happy to come to New Zealand and made her home here in Auckland”. They went back to Canada ten times and loved going back. “I was just one of the cousins.” When friends and family would comment to Isabel how nice it was that she had come home, she would reply, “My home is in Auckland now.” Isabel’s parents came over to Auckland and also lived out their lives here.
A keen surfer, Lewis surfed wherever he could, including West Africa and the Mediterranean. He officially hung up his surfboard in 2015, but managed to get in a sneaky surf at Ohope Beach a couple of years ago.
During their retirement, Lewis and Isabel travelled extensively. Lewis has set foot in 70 countries, including Antarctica where he enjoyed a quick summer’s dip in the frigid waters, but strangely, has never been to Europe! Lewis’s philosophy is, “You may only be here once; if an opportunity comes up you might as well take it.”
A friend told Ron Tombs that he should check out a shop in Blockhouse Bay which had been vacant for 18 months. It was good advice and Ron, whose business was on a monthly lease in Birkenhead, soon made the move to Blockhouse Bay.
That was twenty-seven years ago, and LARS Mart has been a popular icon in Blockhouse Bay ever since. Now it’s time for a change of pace for Ron, and an upcoming lease renewal has made ‘retirement’ an easy decision. That and the 35,000kms he and his wife put on their motorhome over the last two years: the freedom of the open road is beckoning strongly.
Ron’s been in the bag business since 1969. He started his business fifty years ago, and in its heyday, Ron had four shops on Queen Street, with another in Birkenhead. His first shop was where Sky City is now.
Then came “Black Monday” – the stock market crash of 1987. Ron was on a beach in Waikiki at the time, blissfully unaware of the global events that had been unfolding, and the flow-on effect it would have on his business. “It effectively killed off four of my five shops”, he said. “I hung on for three years, but it got me in the end”.
Ron was left with the one shop in Birkenhead, on a monthly lease. He started buying all sorts of items at liquidation auctions - from $1 packs of pencils to $20-30 wicker baskets and chairs - and selling them at discounted prices.
The possum and merino products happened rather by accident, but really took off as most other shops were tourist outlets with higher prices.
He called his business “Liquidation and Receivership Sales Market” – LARS Mart. “Yes, I did occasionally have people think my name was Lars”, he says with a grin.
Ron starts each day at 6am delivering flyers for an hour and a half. Over three months he delivers to 20,000 houses.
Since ‘87 Ron has changed his outlook on business. He believes there’s really only big or small businesses nowadays. Medium-sized businesses such as his Queen Street stores really got hammered by the advent of “big box” stores. “I still sell lots of luggage, but we used to sell three times as much before the big box stores came along.”
Another factor which has helped Ron make his decision to give up the lease on the shop premises is the downturn in foot traffic in Blockhouse Bay village since two of the three banks left. The mainstays of his business - luggage and the possum and merino products – have been operating successfully online for some time now, and Ron will keep that going. He also has an idea for marketing the possum-merino products directly to retirement villages.
LARS Mart will finally close its doors on Christmas Eve. As the word has been getting around, Ron is surprised to find how popular the shop actually is. “It’s really quite moving, people are genuinely disappointed”, he says. “Blockhouse Bay has been good for Larsmart, and we hope we have been good for the Bay. Our sincere thanks to all our loyal customers for their support over the years.”
sales proceeds going to charity
St John and other charities are likely to be the beneficiaries of the sale of the senior citizens hall in Blockhouse Bay.
The property at 522 Blockhouse Bay Rd, on the corner with Exminster St, has been owned and occupied by the Blockhouse Bay Senior Citizens Association for over 50 years. But dwindling use of the building by older people has prompted the association to sell.
Vice president Ray Warren says the association’s constitution requires the proceeds of the sale to be spent in and around the area for the benefit of senior citizens.
“The intention is to support the good work that St John and other charities do in the community, particularly in coming to the aid of elderly people. One option under consideration is funding the purchase of an additional ambulance for the elderly to be based at St John’s nearby New Lynn station. The association would then decide what to do with any remaining proceeds from the sale.”
Mr Warren says the building was constructed for the association in the mid-1960s by Keith Hay Homes from funds donated locally.
“In those days Blockhouse Bay was somewhat isolated from other parts of Auckland, with bus services few and far between, and it was felt important to have a community hall where older people, particularly those living on their own, could gather for companionship. In its heyday, the hall was very well patronised, with standing room only at major events such as the annual Christmas party.”
However, with more elderly now living in retirement villages and apartment buildings which have their own community facilities and churches providing more activities and support for ageing congregations, Mr Warren says it’s the end of an era for senior citizens halls.
Born out of a strong tradition of legacy, the BayLynn Youth Band was formed five years ago by Zyia Li Teh and Bernie Allen. Zyia Li, who taught music at Blockhouse Bay Intermediate, had invited her mentor Bernie and his long-time trombonist friend Merv Thomas – both now octogenarians - to come and inspire her students.
Zyia Li had observed that many of her students who had an interest in music, ability and potential, dropped music at high school, largely because there is no real bridge to the level required there. The idea of a youth band was formed to make sure these kids continue to have music in their lives.
Rather than following the traditional lines of a concert band or symphony orchestra, the founding concept was more of an inclusive group, working on a trickle-down mentoring model.
A small team of dedicated musical directors work hard to provide musical mentoring in this ‘team sport’ environment. This then leads to the more experienced players guiding and encouraging newer members, and on down the chain.
The music is specially arranged and adapted to accommodate the skill level of each member as they grow and develop with the band.
Mentoring young musicians is a familiar concept for Bernie Allen, who for years led big jazz bands, bringing in young players to give them experience.
With a musical career beginning as an aspiring jazz player in the mid-Fifties, Allen’s name was well known in the Auckland music scene, and later appeared in countless credits as musical director for TVNZ productions. One of the most memorable of these is his arrangement for the “Goodnight Kiwi” animation.
Allen believes that all children should be taught music because it activates certain parts of the brain, enhancing the understanding of such things as maths, timing, moods and emotions.
“I’ve done a lot of fulfilling things in my life, but none as fulfilling as the BayLynn Youth Band”, he says.
The band usually arranges at least one performance per term, recently performing a 5th anniversary concert at the Point Chevalier RSA with the support of renowned local jazz musicians such as Bernie Allen, Merv Thomas, Michael Howell, Bruce King, Mike Walker and Neville Grenfell. They also perform at the Blockhouse Bay Primary carnival at the end of November and are a regular favourite at the Hillsborough Heights Retirement Village.
So, what is a legacy? Perhaps legacy could be defined as learning from the past, living in the present, and building for the future.
And when the skills and passion of a lifetime of music are passed on from one to another as is the case with Bernie and Zyia Li, and is now getting passed on to another generation, that’s legacy.
The band can be contacted through their Facebook page, website www.baylynnyouthband.org.nz or at email@example.com.
Murray Halberg village keeps with the running theme
After naming its Lynfield village after one of New Zealand’s great athletes, Murray Halberg, Ryman has now turned to Murray’s fellow runners to inspire the naming of each individual block on the site. One of the first independent apartment blocks will be named after Barry Magee, who won a bronze medal in the marathon at the Rome Olympics in 1960.
Barry himself lives in the village with his wife Heather after shifting there from their home in Mt Roskill. He was quite humbled by the news which Village Manager Grant Costello had shared with the other residents at one of their recent Happy Hours. “I thank Ryman for the honour. In this life nothing can be taken for granted so I count my blessings every day.”He added: “My wife Heather was delightfully surprised when I told her, and my fellow apartment dwellers did all seem pleased with the news.”
The first independent apartment block, where Barry and Heather live, is set to be named after a fellow Olympic bronze medallist, John Davies. John, who sadly passed away in 2003 aged 65, won a bronze in the 1500 metres at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and a silver medal in the one-mile event at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth.
John’s widow Patsy said it was a real surprise when Ryman contacted her. “I thought it was fabulous and would help ensure that part of New Zealand’s history would continue to live on.” She added: “I’m sure John would have been delighted – he would probably be thinking he could get everyone out training!”
Olympic marathon bronze medallist Lorraine Moller’s name will also grace the wall of a Ryman apartment block. Her long list of achievements includes a silver medal in the marathon at the 1986 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh, completing the marathon at the 1984, 1988 and 1996 Olympic Games and winning the 1984 Boston marathon, and the Osaka International Ladies marathon three times in 1986, 1987 and 1989.
Lorraine now spends her time between New Zealand, Sydney and Boulder, Colorado in the US and admitted she was ‘really chuffed’ by the request. “I am so stoked and honoured!” she said.
Lorraine also has a connection to another Ryman namesake – Nellie Melba in Melbourne. “Dame Nellie Melba is my great grandmother’s cousin,” she said, adding: “I did not inherit her singing ability, but I don’t think she was much of a runner either!”
Sir John Walker has also been added to the list of inspiring names. Another middle-distance star, John won the 1500m event at the 1976 Olympics and was also the first person to run the mile in under 3:50.
He recently retired from his role in local government as an Auckland councillor and representing the Manurewa-Papakura ward.
In the village centre, the hospital, rest home and special care units will be named after the locations of the Olympics and Commonwealth competitions held in Perth, Rome and Cardiff respectively.
As the year is nearly over and the holiday season is upon us, it’s a good time to reflect and give a shout out to the people I’ve met out in the community. I’ve had the privilege of connecting with many of you this year. I’ve met many passionate individuals, been invited to visit your groups, sat alongside some of you during some challenging times, and enjoyed the many different ways that you choose to celebrate.
Having thriving communities is so important for our wellbeing. It is hard to imagine what the New Lynn electorate would look like without the input from the many people who work and volunteer for our libraries, community centres, the Whau and Puketapapa Local Boards, Grey Power, our Pacific Wardens the Community Policing Team, our churches, mosques and temples, our local schools and early childhood centres.
Meeting with my constituents face to face and visiting your organisations has given me a better understanding of the people I represent, and the ways in which I can help you. It also helps me when it comes to being involved in developing policy and making the day-to-day decisions in government.
Please contact my office if you would like me to come and visit your group, or come along to an event that you’re running. I can’t promise that I will always be able to make it because being an MP also means that I have to spend a lot of time in Wellington, but as much as possible, we like to be there to be part of our community.
On behalf of myself and my team at the New Lynn electorate office, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and thank you for reaching out and sharing the Aroha with others in our community over the holiday season.
Dr Deborah Russell, MP for New Lynn
Avondale local Tom Scott took out the Best Album of the Year at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards with his collaborative album Avantdale Bowling Club. He also won Best Hip Hop Artist.
Always a bit edgy, in his acceptance speech he suggested that Jacinda Adern should go out to visit Ihuamato. He sang his song “Home” live at the ceremony backed by a choir from his old school, Avondale Intermediate. He has said that so much of his music comes from his life experience in Avondale and that he could not have done the album if he was still in Australia.
Like many others, Tom wants to see the whole community accurately portrayed in the media, and not become a victim of a media or music narrative of ghettos and gangstas. Avondale is much more than that.
After seven years of working at the Blockhouse Bay Community Centre we sadly say goodbye to Stephanie O’Hanlon, our Accounts Manager and right-hand lady. It has been such a pleasure to work alongside Stephanie, always flexible and willing to help out wherever needed with a smile on her face and a great sense of humour. She will be greatly missed by the staff, committee and our Community Centre family. We wish her luck with all her future endeavours.
The New Windsor School community came together last month in spectacular fashion to showcase the unique ethnic communities in the school, in the inaugural New Windsor Culture and Food Festival.
The event was organised by the newly formed Parent-Teacher Co-operative and supported by the school, to help build genuine community within the culturally diverse school. With English a barrier for many immigrants, the idea was for groups to form around ethnicities, with the process of planning and cooking together a point of connection, and those who spoke English well helping and translating for those who didn’t.
The model worked beautifully, and the event was a huge success. There were many performances and activities, and even dancing dragons. The food was so popular it was sold out by 2pm.
The Growing Resilient Community in New Windsor project which is funded by the Whau Local Board and delivered by Community Waitakere, also had a stand at the festival, and people were invited to share their thoughts about New Windsor. Public engagement with the project was enthusiastic, with the project team feeling encouraged by the response.
Outgoing Principal Glenn Bermingham said that although the event made a profit for the school, was not about making money; rather it was about making connections and developing school community across all the diverse cultures.
While this event was a learning experience which the school will learn and grow from, it is planned to open future events to the wider community.