by Helen Martin
After attending Penrose High School, Jan Woodbury worked as an apprentice dressmaker in Karangahape Road. When she was 17, her father’s decision she could buy a motor scooter but not a motorbike turned out to be life changing for Jan, as the NZeta she found was owned by 20-year-old apprentice boat builder Ray Scott. “I thought he was handsome,” says Jan. “When I bought the scooter, he said he’d deliver it if I’d go out with him. After 18 months we married and this July we’ll have been married 53 years - we now have three children, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.”
Ray’s Helensville links go back to around 1882, after his ancestor William Scott ran away from home in London at the age of 13 and, many adventures later, ended up in Helensville, married and produced 10 children. Ray, his father and grandfather were all born here. It’s not surprising then that the couple moved to Helensville, so Ray could crew on his father’s fishing boat. At the time Jan thought Helensville was cute, even though it seemed to her “like the back of beyond” because it was so far from Auckland.
Wanting to save for a house deposit, when their first child, Bruce, was nine months old Ray found work as a lighthouse keeper. Highlights of their two years on Cuvier Island in the Hauraki Gulf included Jan being flown by Fred Ladd to the mainland for the birth of their daughter Michele and learning the tricks of self-sufficiency through fishing and hunting, growing fruit and vegetables, making butter and bread and keeping a house cow, sheep, chickens and ducks. In 1968 they battled the vicious storm that caused the Wahine to sink in Wellington Harbour, the effects of which were considerable on Cuvier. The following two years were spent on Fiordland’s Puysegur Point (nicknamed Purgatory Point) where, as Jan explains, “the sand flies and mosquitoes carried you away and it was always cold, windy and raining.”
With a deposit saved, they next became Helensville homeowners and their third child, Tania, was born in Helensville Hospital. Jan settled quickly into the community, making friends through playcentre and Helensville Primary and, later, through her work. While she and Ray shifted around a bit over the years, including a six-month stint on the Gold Coast, they have lived mostly in Helensville. Jan is well known from having worked in several shops in the area, including the pharmacy, the health shop, the florist and her son Bruce’s butchery in Mill Rd, which he built. Having now retired, she volunteers at St John’s.
Jan has always had plenty of interests. Ray had “always been into bows and arrows” and he and Jan became involved in small bore rifle shooting at Boystown’s rifle range, graduating to master grade and shooting competitively. Jan is proud she was the captain of the New Zealand women’s team against England in 1978, earning her silver fern and blazer. Ray and Bruce also represented New Zealand in small bore rifle shooting.
“I tried pottery and ceramics, and then I went to a jewellery class and really liked it,” Jan says. After making jewellery from home, she became the resident jeweller at Art on Track, a gallery at the railway station set up by a group of women artists. She also held stalls at the Kaukapakapa Market and, along with Ray, whose wood turning has in latter years become his obsession, takes part in Helensville’s annual Arts in the Ville at Labour Weekend. Jan belongs to Peggy Squares, the local group that meets weekly and knits for babies in need, and to Red Hatters, a society that operates internationally with the goal of fostering social interaction and bonding among women.
It hasn’t been all beer and skittles. In 1993, Ray was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but thankfully eventually recovered. Then, in 2001 Jan contracted encephalitis, inflammation of the brain lining, a “wicked illness” that could have killed her and from which she took a long time to recover.
It was the kindness of others during those times that made Jan decide two years ago it was time to give something back.” I thought, what can I do to contribute? And it came to me – I’d set up a free service driving senior citizens to their appointments in the local area. Ray was out, and by the time he got home I’d gone online and organised 500 cards to be printed and a magnetic sign for my car to advertise I Drive You. I’m not an impulsive person but I just did it, and Ray was happy to support me.” After distributing her cards around Helensville and Parakai, organising a police check (which was not required, but she did it anyway), organising a disabled parking sign and finding out if she needed to change her insurance policy or get a special licence (she didn’t), a month after she hatched her idea in May 2016 Jan took her first client to a physio appointment.
“I don’t go further than Helensville and Parakai because I’m looking after my own village. When I take someone to an appointment I wait for them and take them home. I don’t want to rush anyone, so when I’m with somebody, that time is theirs.” Jan’s generosity does not go unnoticed. Her service has been celebrated on TVNZ’s ‘Good Sorts’ and in the New Zealand Women’s Weekly. Many of her clients are so grateful they insist on paying her – and every cent she receives is passed on to St John. “I give the donations to them because I strongly believe in their mission, which is ‘to develop strong communities to help people live independently, get the social connections they need and improve their well being’” she explains.
Helensville is lucky to have Jan, just as she feels lucky to be here. “I love Helensville because it’s a very friendly little village. I feel comfortable, I feel welcome, I’m content. We have all the amenities we need, so I don’t think we need to go to Auckland much at all. I originally came from Ellerslie, but this is home.”
Jan can be contacted on 4207283 and 02102563865.
by Helen Martin