John Ewart Old
(1913 – 2017)
by Helen Martin
When John Old died in Rawene Hospital in February, at 103 he was thought to be the oldest Lion in the world. A dedicated and highly valued member, he had been with the service club for 55 years, 50 of them in the Helensville Lions, where he had “the undisputed role of Greeter.” (HCN, 2015). At his memorial service in Helensville he was remembered as a lovely man whose tireless contribution to his much-loved community saw him awarded life membership of the Lions, Helensville A&P, St Johns Ambulance and Volunteer Fire Brigade. He was also on the Kaipara College Board of Trustees and the Business Association.
John was a family man, the loved husband of the late Joyce, father of Adrienne, father-in-law of Kerry, grandfather and great grandfather. He was born in Waitara, later moving to the Bay of Plenty, where he grew up on a farm. When he left school, he found work with the Union Bank of Australia, which later became the ANZ. As a banker, he was posted around the country, joining the Lions Club in Te Awamutu. He was posted to Helensville in 1967 to take up the role of ANZ Bank Manager. Always interested in helping others, John put his financial skills to work giving advice to people setting up in business and helping clubs and societies balance their books free of charge. One speaker at the memorial service recalled John taking a pistol whenever he went to help the Kaukapakapa pub owner cash up the takings – just in case. As Helensville’s Santa Claus for 20 years he handed out lollies in the street and rode on the Christmas Parade float, a role many Helensville residents still affectionately remember him for.
As well as making time for all his community work he had plenty of hobbies, enjoying bowls, gardening (he was always a fierce competitor in the A&P produce section, winning many trophies in the competition he helped organise), betting on the horses, old time dancing and stamp collecting. He was a scoutmaster for a time and signed up for an international cooking class at the age of 57. He could often be seen sitting on the seat outside Countdown, his chosen spot to smoke his beloved cigars.
The esteem in which he was held was seen when the town held a parade to celebrate his 80th birthday – children from local scout, guide and pippin groups sang happy birthday and the townsfolk turned out to see fire, ambulance and police vehicles escort the vintage car he was driven in to a celebration in the scout den. An evening party thrown by the RSA followed this.
In old age John moved to Rawene to be near his family. Adrienne told those at the memorial service that to the last he remained cheerful, witty and interested in what was going on, and that he never forgot Helensville, a place that was “always in his heart.”