Behind the scenes of every major bowls tournament in New Zealand, there’s a ‘chart room’. It’s the hub that runs the tournament. Where the Tournament Director directs. And where Chart Room Assistants assist. And when it came to the recent Summerset National Fours Championships at Naenae Bowling Club in Wellington, it was Keith Johnson who was called on to assist.
For those who know Keith, that appointment wasn’t surprising. He’s been umpiring bowls for over 30 years and in that time as an umpire has become noticed for his ‘unnoticeability’ … Keith’s modus operandi is unassuming, calm, fair … and in the background. He’s the sort of umpire that Kiwi bowlers love – quietly adjudicating without fuss. If the limelight could talk, it would say ‘Keith who?’
Yet Keith’s umpiring credentials are second-to-none.
He’s been the Head of the Bowls New Zealand Umpiring Committee. He’s been Chief Umpire (or ‘Chief Technical Official’ as it is known these days) at the Nationals … many times. He’s umpired at the Trans-Tasmans and the South Pacfic Games in Samoa. The Wellington Umpires Association has made Keith a Life Member.
Despite these credentials, one of Keith’s best tricks has been to sire grandson Michael Johnson, who filled his grandfather’s shoes as the Chief Technical Official at the Nationals. And in a couple of months, Michael will be off to Samoa to train umpires for the Pacific Games, before acting as the overseeing umpire ‘matai’ at Apia.
Keith’s been a Wellington man all his life. His dad was a ‘mercer’ – one of those occupations that has all but disappeared. Keith became a cabinetmaker and furniture manufacturer – another occupation that has become critically endangered in an era of computer-cut flatpacks.
In the 1970s, Keith became the Woodwork Teacher at Newlands Intermediate, teaching for 20 years. “I guess I became part of the furniture there!” chuckles Keith.
In those days, Keith and his wife Pauline, and their children Allan, Graeme and Helen used to make an annual holiday pilgrimage to far-away Ohope Beach, towing a caravan behind the Chrysler Valiant. It was the love of those holidays lead them to building a bach at nearby Waikanae Beach, and lead Keith to getting into bowls.
“That was 36 years ago. My uncle was a bowler at the Waikanae Beach Bowling Club and took me along.”
“After the family left home, we eventually sold the bach,” says Keith, “and I joined the Tawa Bowling Club near to where we lived.”
“I was never a very good bowler though,” admits Keith. “You won’t find ‘Keith Johnson’ on any club honours boards. Even Michael quickly became a better player than me.”
Michael poo-poos his granddad’s modesty. “We played together a lot in the early days. And for that matter against each other too! I’m keen to get him back on the green again – he hasn’t played for a couple of years.”
Keith’s keen too.
“It’s been great being here in the Chart Room at the Nationals,” he says. “They even dragged me out to umpire a couple of games when they were short. It’s inspired me to take my bowls out for a run when I get back to Tawa.”
Keep it up, Keith!