The annual general meeting of Bowls New Zealand, held at the Carlton Cornwall Bowling Club in September, marked the closing of the two-year term of effervescent President Jeanette Sinclair.
Jeanette has been a breath of fresh air in the organisation and her evergreen smile at clubhouses, on greens, and at prizegivings throughout New Zealand will be missed.
Jeanette will be a hard act to follow, but newly elected President, Wellington-based Mark O’Connor, is determined to rise to the challenge.
“I don’t see the presidency as just a ceremonial position like in many other sports,” says Mark.
“I want to play an active role on the board, representing the interests of the bowling community, and helping create participation and infrastructure solutions that assure the long-term viability of lawn bowls.”
It’s a big ask. But Mark has been involved at the top level of sports enough to know that unless a sport adapts to changing expectations in the community, it will wither and die.
“Having said that,” he continues, “you need to bring the grassroots with you, you can’t inflict adaptations on the bowls community … and my job is to get out and listen to what that community needs and wants and advocate that at Board level.”
Mark will start off as a stranger to many in that bowls community.
“I haven’t been a mover and shaker when it comes to playing the game,” laughs Mark. “In fact, it took me 25 years to win my first club title!”
Blackjacks head coach Peter Belliss may remember him though.
At his first Nationals over 30 years ago, Mark came up against Peter in the first game of the round robin.
“I found myself leading him 4-0. I never won another end. Peter must’ve given himself a slap, and ended up winning 21-4. The thing I remember was Peter joining me for lunch afterwards. Here I was as a bowls newbie, playing a legend … and him taking the time to socialise with a bowls nobody like me. That’s the wonderful thing about bowls.”
What makes up for Mark’s reputation on the green (or lack thereof) is more than made up by his involvement with the clubs – and he’s belonged to many.
Starting out casually at the old Hoon Hay Working Men’s Club, he transferred to St Clair Bowling Club in Dunedin, back to Christchurch at Woolston Park, up to the Taihape Bowling Club, the Devonport Bowling Club, the Plimmerton Bowling Club and for the past 10 years has been a member of the Whitby Bowling Club, north of Wellington.
The reason for all these changes was simple.
Mark and his wife, Lynne, found themselves people in demand.
Mark, at Air New Zealand, where he was shifted about in various roles. And Lynne, a career army officer, who also found herself transferred about the defence force.
“I did 20 years at Air New Zealand in Christchurch and Dunedin,” says Mark,” where I virtually did anything and everything!”
“I then became Business/ Marketing Manager of the Army Museum at Waiouru, which ironically was where I was born. That’s where I also met Lynne.”
“As Lynne was posted around the country I ended up as Manager of the UNITEC Students’ Association, General Manager of the Shannon Golf Club, Executive Director of the Council of Medical Colleges, General Manager of Rugby League in the lower North Island, General Manager of Wellington Rugby League, Business Manager and CEO at Swimming New Zealand … I even had a stint working for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Edinburgh!”
At the same time, Mark has held virtually every administrative position there is to hold at club and centre level in bowls: club secretary, club treasurer, club president, centre committee, centre chair and more.
Mark and his wife have now settled down in Porirua, with their two children Caitlin (20) and Joshua (17), and two cats Toby and Mac.
He’s currently General Manager of the Lower Hutt Medical Centre, and of course the new President of Bowls New Zealand. There’s no doubt he’s going to bring a wealth of experience to the presidency and the board.
Great to have you along for the ride, Mark!
by Rob Davis