Mike Spring 1941-2021 : a life like a box of chocolates

February 22, 2021

Former Bowls New Zealand National President (2016-2017) Mike Spring may not have a shrimping boat parked at the wharf near his home in Tauranga, nor has he invested in ‘some kind of fruit company’, but Mike seems to have always been there at interesting times and interesting places in history, like the eponymous hero of the movie ‘Forrest Gump’.

In fact were the magic of movies real, more than likely Forrest and Mike could easily have run into each other in the streets of Washington DC in 1974, when Mike was stationed at the New Zealand Embassy just after Forrest had accidentally exposing the Watergate scandal.

But that’s where the analogy ends.  Forrest Gump was a simple man.  Mike Spring is far from simple.

Mike was born in Waitara in 1942, the son of a mother who anxiously waited for his father’s return from war on the other side of the world.

But return he did, and the family ended up moving to a rehab farm in the Waikato in 1947.

In 1960, Mike joined the air force.  It was at a time when the air force, having reached a peak of 1,000 combat aircraft in 1945, was re-examining its peace time role … which incoming Air Vice Marshal Ian Morrison defined as strike capability, transport and maritime patrol.

That had big ramifications for the air force.  It meant that the ageing Vampires would be replaced with Canberras; the C-47 Dakotas and Bristol Freighters would be replaced with C-130 Hercules; and the Sunderland Flying Boats would be replaced with P-3B Orions.

That had ramifications for Mike too.  It meant that the time he had spent at Wigram, Hobsonville, Whenuapai, Ohakea and Laucala Bay in Fiji becoming a Sunderland expert, would mean retraining on the 5 new Orions.

“I had loved my time on the Sunderlands,” says Mike.  “and in particular, I loved Fiji.  I met Prince Charles there when he handed over independence to the country in 1970.  But more importantly, I met my wife Fay there.”

The re-equipping of the air force meant that Mike and  Fayrelocated to Auckland – and Mike to Whenuapai to Five Squadron to learn more out the shiny new Orions.

“Then after a stint in Auckland and Wellington, we were sent to Washington DC in 1974.  I was there for 4 years, as New Zealand’s representative on the 5 Nations Communications-Electronics Board.”

“It was a momentous time in US history.  Nixon had been forced to resign, Ford became the unelected President, and Jimmy Carter was elected President.  Mike & Fay’s eldest daughter Michele was even in an Irish dancing group which performed at Jimmy Carter’s inauguration.”

Mike met the Queen when she opened the newly re-built New Zealand Embassy in Washington in 1975.  And the following year, 1976, was also America’s bicentennial year.

In 1979, Mike (and Fay) returned to Wellington to supervise the refurbishment of the five Orions with the latest avionics.  It was a job that took Mike to the States, and to Australia to take possession of a sixth Orion from the Royal Australian Air Force at Adelaide in 1985.

After taking a desk job with the Defence Department back in Wellington, Mike got involved with cricket.  “My sports career had started off in cricket – I started off playing cricket at Walton Primary School near Waharoa.  I ended up Secretary of the Walton Cricket Club at the age of 15!  But I also played rugby, basketball and volleyball.”

It was the start of a long love-affair with cricket.  When his career in the air force curtailed playing and umpiring (from 1971), Mike became involved with administration of the game.

He became a Director of the Wellington Cricket Board and Chair of the Wellington Umpires Association.  “I had my one shining moment umpiring,” he recalls, “When Australia played Nelson in a one-dayer at Trafalgar Park in 1986.  I think that Australia won by 80 or so runs.”

But it wasn’t until 1998 when he was 58 years young that Mike considered playing the game we all love.

“I can remember thinking ‘why not?’.  So I joined the Tawa Bowling Club.”

However, Mike was still working.  And a very handy person like him was always going to be at the whim of the Defence Department as to what, why and where his expertise should be pressed into service in the world.

In 2003, he and Fay were off to Canberra.  “I ended up playing at the Canberra South Bowling Club,” he says, “and although we were only there 4 years, I became the Secretary, and then the Deputy President of the club.”

In 2007, at the age of 65, it was time to retire.  And like many retirees, Mike and Fay chose Tauranga to settle.

“I joined the Matua Bowling Club,” says Mike.  “It was, and is, one of the top 5 bowling clubs in New Zealand, with an active membership of over 180.”

As had happened many times previously, Mike got pressed into administrative service.  He became Vice President and then President of the club, Vice President and then President of the Bay of Plenty Centre, and eventually Vice President and then President of Bowl New Zealand.

“He was a great guy to be President of Bowls New Zealand,” says Martin McKenzie, CDO for Bowls New Zealand. “He’s not only a very intelligent and organised bloke, but he has great stories to tell.  He’s the sort of guy you can always rely on to be there, and during his two years as president he got around a lot of clubs.  I loved working with Mike.”

Those sentiments are echoed by Jeannette Sinclair, who took over from Mike as president.  “He was super-organised, and handed me what I had to do in the role of president on a platter.  I was very grateful.”

Mike brought a new impetus to Bowls New Zealand.

“As I went around the clubs, I was preaching a gospel for change,” he says.  “If bowls was going to survive, we needed to do things differently.  And it’s great to see that bowls is indeed changing today.  Membership is up and the bowling community seems determined to be here in the future, and not disappear into oblivion.”

“I’m not suggesting that’s my doing … just that it’s a great thing to see.  Mark Cameron is doing a great job inspiring this new passion for lawn bowls in New Zealand.”

Unfortunately, Mike cant enjoy his beloved Matua Bowling Club as much as he would like to these days … both he and Fay aren’t enjoying the best of health.

But they have no regrets.  Unlike the movie, they haven’t waited for life to dish them up a box of chocolates … he and Fay have created a box of chocolates … a rich assortment themselves.

And bowls has been lucky to be one of the flavours in the box.

Kia kaha, Mike and Fay.

Mike sadly passed away on the 22nd of February 2021, he will be sadly missed and long remembered.

Rest in Peace