Yachtsman, Second 5, Bowler and All-round Nice Guy

- Rob Davis
Our People

The bloke sitting in the corner watching over the bowlers on the no.1 green at the Taieri Bowling Club in Mosgiel, Dunedin is Tom Jopson, Club Mentor. Like Sheldon in ‘The Big Bang Theory’, you wouldn’t want to sit in Tom’s seat while he was in the club. But unlike Sheldon, this would simply be deference to a great club stalwart – rather than a claim the modest Tom might make.

“I’m the Club Nuisance,” says Tom self-effacingly. “And during the Nationals I’m also the Dryer-of-spectator-seats-after-the-rain.” But there’s a lot more to Dunedin-born (1935) Tom than being a nuisance, drying seats and mentoring the club youngsters.

Tom started bowls at Green Island in 1987. “We won the Otago Open Triples in 1992/1993,” says Tom, “But since then my bowls has been going backwards. My wife was the better bowler in the household.”

Rugby pedants will know Tom Jopson better for the contribution he made with the oval ball, playing for the Union Club in Dunedin in the 50s with Marlene Castle’s brother, Noel. Tom went on to play 32 games for Otago, mainly as second 5 under coach Eric Watson. “I was away on tour in Wanganui when my first son Wayne was born – when we got back to town, we passed the wee fella around the bus to introduce him to the team.”

Tom also played against the 1958/1959 Lions. “It was a big day. We won 26-8 at Carisbrook. I was marking the Welsh second 5, Malcolm Price. And a bloke called Tony O’Brien was on their wing.” That earned him two All Black trials in 1959 – one in Gore and one in Timaru. “Ian Galloway said I should have been selected, but that’s as close as it got.”

Tom took to yachting. Along with rugby brothers Kevin and Jack Skinner, he raced a 12 foot 8 inch Idle-along class yacht on the Otago Harbour in the 1950s. They changed to the 14 foot X-class yacht to race in the Sanders Cup. “It was the ultimate prize in New Zealand yachting back then.”

It wasn’t just in bowls, rugby and yachting that Tom did well. “I won second prize in the Golden Kiwi way back,” he laughs. “It was a thousand pounds – it paid for the section I built my house on.”

But his family has been his major coup. Although his wife has passed away, she is survived by 3 kids, 11 grandkids and 2 great-grandkids to enjoy. “Life is about enjoying yourself,” counsels Tom. “It’s no good worrying about things you can’t do anything about.”