There are about 25,000 incorporated societies in New Zealand.

What they all have in common, including the 462 or so bowling clubs, is that they all depend on people as to whether they thrive, survive or dive.

And in particular, depend on special people in the club … those members who unconditionally pull out the stops to help the club no matter what.

We instinctively know who they are in all our clubs.  We’ve often made them ‘life members’.  Or if we haven’t, it’s probably because we still think we can get more out of them before they’ve done a life of service to the club!

We describe them to others as ‘a real club man’ (or ‘a real club woman’).  That simple description covers it all.

Gary Hooson is a ‘real club man’

And despite the fact that Gary has only been a member of the Russell Bowling Club Executive in the Bay of Islands since 2014 (a ‘newbie’ by bowling club standards), he is already renowned as ‘a real club man’.  So much so, that he has won Bowls New Zealand’s Club Person of the Year Award for 2023.

Like all ‘club men’, Gary has involved himself with every aspect of the Russell Bowling Club over the last 9+ years.

Gary had his arm twisted back in 2014 to take up the role of Match Committee Chair, and today has become the club’s second longest serving President.  In 2021 he also took up the role of Green Superintendent, helping the greenkeeper in training (Pierre Drelaud) re-lay 36 square metres of the club’s drought-damaged green with some of the best of the best turf from neighbouring club, Arapohue.

But those are just the ‘formal’ roles in club.  Like a busy All Black wing, Gary has over the years gone about looking for wherever the action is.  And over the years, he’s never gone missing.

He’s been instrumental in making the club’s centenary in 2023 a proud occasion … helping create and break out all sorts of bunting and memorabilia for the occasion: a new Russell Bowling Club centenary logo for the occasion, a centenary magazine with titbits about the rich history of the club, a new centennial players’ shirt, ‘100 years of bowls’ signage, and more.

Gary’s also working on the next 100 years.

“He puts a lot of effort into getting the local secondary school kids down here to learn the sport,” says Club Secretary Pania Sigley.  “Gary’s determined to make bowls a sport for all ages … not just for Bay of Islands’ retirees.”

And not just for the ‘full time’ bowlers in the Bay of Islands.

Gary also runs the twilight bowls comp over 8 to 10 weeks of summer … where Kororarekans can come along to the club and enjoy a fun filled evening of bowls, beers and a BBQ.  Gary knows that while they may not be ready now to take up bowls ‘full time’, giving them a good time today will go a long way to securing them as bowlers tomorrow.

He also emcees the club’s business house bowls … giving local businesses a break from competing for the tourist dollar, and instead competing for one of the many $2 shop prizes Gary generously sprinkles amongst the contestants for winning, losing or simply joining in the gentle game.

Gary loves involving bowls in the community.

And the community loves involving itself in the bowling club. In fact most would regard the club as a community club that also welcomes bowlers rather than a bowling club that also welcomes the community.

What’s more, Gary takes this love-of-club on the road whenever he can … whether it’s attending the annual Aotearoa Maori Bowls Tournament wherever it might be throughout the country, or just being part of the club touring group to an inter-club or centre tournament.

He’s a dab hand at the game himself … being in the winning team for both the club’s pairs and fours champs this last season.  His wife Maryanne and son Jonty also enjoy time on the green … although he hasn’t convincingly converted daughter Steffi who still prefers the club’s off-green socialising to the on-green bowling.

But that’s okay.  It’s all at the club.  And that’s what counts.

Congratulations Gary.