Shone as a player and coach
When he passed away on May 25, a few months short of his 90th birthday, Covid-19 protocols and his own wishes meant that many in our community and elsewhere were denied the opportunity of attending a function to celebrate the life and influence on their lives of workmate and sportsman Dick Jones.
Dick was born in Opotiki in 1930. Academic secondary schooling at Auckland Grammar was not for him and he left school as soon as he turned 15.
His first forays into the world of work were in farming on the Coromandel before he moved to Gisborne in 1948 to join his elder brother Allan, working in heavy bush inland from Tolaga Bay, splitting battens and loading them out on pack-horses every two or three weeks.
A move to employment with the New Zealand Post and Telegraph Department as a lineman was the forerunner to his joining the Royal New Zealand Corps of Signals. It was probably a desire for an overseas experience rather than a spur-of-the-moment decision that led to his enlisting in 1952 at the time of the Korean war. There he was involved in running cables in communication trenches from bases to the front, at times under fire. He was promoted to sergeant over a service of two years before he returned home after contracting malaria.
He became engaged to Maureen Thorstenson in 1954 and the next year they began 65 years of married life, the raising of a family of three boys and two girls and the welcoming of 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Dick had joined the Old Boys Rugby Football Club when he arrived in Gisborne at the age of 18 and that membership was to play a particularly influential part in his further career.
Early in married life he worked on Emirau station, the property of prominent Old Boys supporter Geoff Shanks, on the East Coast, but the necessity of travelling to attend rugby training came to an end in 1956 when a job in town was offered by Neil (“Chopper”) Summersby, former Poverty Bay captain, Old Boys life member and the production manager of the newly established Watties factory in Gisborne.
Additionally, it was the time when “Chopper” was moving into the motel industry and Dick found himself also employed in the building of the Orange Grove Motel complex. This gave the financial boost that enabled the purchase and establishment of a family home for Dick and Maureen a little further east along Childers Road.
During his time with Watties, Dick’s aptitude for working with machinery brought about a move from truck-driving to the engineering side. That carried on when he joined the freezing works as a fitter and turner. There he was often in demand because workers made him the first port of call as the one most likely to find a quick solution to problems with malfunctioning equipment.
As the works approached closure, Dick took redundancy and found employment at the Juken Nissho mill. He retired at the age of 67.
He was a Poverty Bay rugby representative from 1955 to ’59. It is a surprise to find that in his first game for Poverty Bay, against East Coast, he was positioned in the backs as a wing three-quarter. He had earned selection, through his performances for Old Boys in senior club rugby, as a flank forward who had the fitness to keep with the pace of the game, was quicker to the breakdown than his opposites and was a formidable tackler.
In the 1950s, heavy rucking was the norm and the rules allowed loose forwards to follow the ball through a scrum and to stand out in midfield from a lineout, so one of their leading roles was to disrupt the opposing inside backs.
With his speed and penchant for marauding and tackling, Dick Jones could be a big thorn in the opposition’s side. This was nowhere better illustrated than the 1957 Poverty Bay Ranfurly Shield challenge against Wellington at Athletic Park.
By halftime, Wellington — with All Blacks Bill Clark, Don McIntosh, Nev MacEwan and Ivan Vodanovich to the fore — led 15-0 but that was the last of their scoring. Mick Cossey scored a try for Poverty Bay and the game ended 15-3.
Dick was a major contributor in the Bay revival. Wellington first five-eighth, Jackie Dougan — not an All Black but regularly described by the capital’s worshipping press as “the man who never was” — had been guiding his team confidently around the field earlier. His nervous hesitation in the second half became apparent as Dick fixed a beady eye on him, even though it must be conceded that at times the flanker in the scarlet jersey got away with blatant offside behind the referee’s back.
After hanging up his boots, Dick forged a considerable reputation in local rugby as a coach. His regular Saturday sojourns to “Cockroach Castle”, the referees’ shed at the Oval, in order to cross swords with refs on their decisions, showed him to be a genuine thinker on the game, but his players mainly recall that he was an advocate of what they call “the old style”.
His demands for high standards of fitness mirrored the approach he had taken as a player and his belief that a good team could prevail even if their individual players did not possess the talent of some of their opposites.
He wanted a no-frills game based on controlled forward play and soundness in back attack, and devoid of the tricks, fancy moves or gimmicks of today’s game.
He had no room for shirkers at training or during a match.
His players recall that while he forcefully imposed such demands, they were tempered by a personality that allowed them to look up to him, enjoy his company and appreciate his loyalty to them after the game.
He was first in charge of the Old Boys Third Grade team in 1963; they won their championship the next year. He moved on to coach the Junior team and annexed that competition, also in his second year. By 1970 he was at the helm of the club’s senior side and yet again, in his second year, the team came away with the championship for the Lee Brothers Shield.
The feat of being in charge of club teams that won each of their grades from lowest to highest in two-yearly intervals reflects an outstanding capacity as a coach.
He led the seniors for three more seasons, and Old Boys continued to be a leading force.
In 1976, after his eldest son Joe left school, he returned to coach the club’s under-19 team as well as Poverty Bay’s representative team for that grade.
In 1981 and ’82 he was Old Boys’ club captain and was honoured with life membership as the club registered 75 years since its founding in 1919.
In 1996 the club and its neighbour, Marist RFC, merged to form OBM, taking over the former Old Boys clubhouse. Dick was appointed patron in the early years, but by that time he had started to turn his attention to the Kahutia Bowling Club as his active sporting interest and his new “watering hole”.
The bowling club’s records testify to a win in the 1994 junior pairs championship, which was repeated the following year, along with annexation of the junior fours.
Any hopes of further progress on the competitive scene were dashed by a hand problem.
That did not stop Dick from becoming fully involved in his club activities. As the person in charge of the greens, he was known to be found watering them in preparation for competition days, after rising at 4am in order to do so. Again, it was that knack of finding solutions to maintenance problems that led to his becoming a “Mr Fix-it” in the club. The value placed on such services was acknowledged at the 2013 annual general meeting when his name was added to that of his brother Allan on the Life Members’ Honours Board.
Dick is survived by his wife Maureen, daughters Kerry and Vicki, sons Joe, Wilson and Colin, by his wider family and by a great number of the former players, workmates and fellow club members whose lives he touched. I don’t think he fully apprehended the degree of respect and loyalty they felt for him — they would all be among the first to say that a great deal depended on Richard Harold Jones. — by Dick Glover