Arawa Bowling Club member, and former Maraetai Beach Bowling Club member, Oscar Grant recently turned 100.
That’s not super-unusual … there are some 500 or so centenarians in New Zealand. But what is super-unusual is that on the centennial of his birth, Oscar is still occasionally playing bowls. Indeed, he’s still a full-playing member of the Arawa Bowling Club in Rotorua.
Oscar started playing bowls in the 1967/1968 season. He had recently been transferred with his wife, Frances, from Gisborne to Rotorua as Manager of the local branch of State Insurance – and his three kids were now of an age that could allow him to indulge himself at weekends playing bowls while Frances played croquet.
“He hadn’t been at the club long,” say Past President Alan McAuley, “When he became the driving force behind the establishment of the Arawa Open Fours Tournament. Now known as ‘The Speights’, it’s still the signature tournament at Arawa today, and always ‘sold out’.”
“Last February when he was 99, he got an exemption to play in the tournament as a substitute. But when the first bowl Oscar played was a toucher, the substitute had a hard job getting a look-in!”
“Oscar’s already committed to playing next February.”
Oscar’s always been a keen bowler since he started, but for a while in the early 70’s, bowls took a backseat to Oscar’s day job.
Oscar cuts the cake
He was seconded onto a group of senior State Insurance Managers to help guide the establishment of a new insurance scheme : Accident Compensation. It was a great accolade for a bloke who had left school at the age of 12 to help support his family in the Great Depression, and only received ‘catch-up’ secondary schooling in the Air Force during the war.
On 1st April 1974, the Accident Compensation Commission came into being, and Oscar was able to devote more attention to bowls.
He became President of Arawa Men’s Bowling Club in 1976/1977. It was the heyday of the club … when there was over 200 members and a long waiting list. There was still a waiting list when he was transferred to Auckland with State Insurance in 1983.
Oscar joined the then-named Maraetai Beach Bowling Club, and became as passionate about the club as he had been about Arawa. So much so, that he and Frances retired to Maraetai 3 years later.
Oscar was made President of the Maraetai Beach Bowling Club. He was in the Maraetai Beach Bowling Club that won the club’s only Centre Fours. “We also got to the last 32 in the National Fours in Auckland one year,” recalls Oscar.
“I think my best contribution at Maraetai was getting the old clay green sorted,” he says. “We could never grow grass properly, so the club agreed to put down an artificial. The then Manukau City Council told us that if we raised 25% of the funds, they’d do a dollar-for-dollar contribution, and give us an interest-free loan for the rest!”
“Needless to say, we had no problem raising our 25%!”
The club made Oscar a Life Member. But Frances’s failing health meant they had to return to Rotorua, where she eventually passed away.
Oscar didn’t have to ‘re-join’ Arawa. “I’d stayed a member the whole time we were living in Auckland,” he laughs.
These days, he still lives by himself in his own four-bedroom home just around the corner from the Rotorua East Club, where he enjoyed a celebration of his 100th birthday with extended family and close friends.
It was one celebration of a week of celebrations …. including a luncheon for the immediate family gathered from far and wide in New Zealand, and a special ‘do’ at the Arawa Bowling Club where he was feted by the members.
There was no Queen’s telegram … ‘telegrams’ went out of being about 1995. But the Queen, the Governor General Patsy Reddy, the Prime Minister Jacinda Adern, and the Minister for Senior Tracey Martin all sent postal greetings. While video greetings came from family overseas thwarted from attending by COVID.
Ken Hughes, who started work with Oscar in Gisborne in 1956, paid homage to Oscar at the celebration : “If we had the Oscars in New Zealand, then Oscar would get an Oscar for being a bloody good Kiwi bloke.”
He’s not wrong.
Oscar is truly a taonga … a bloke treasured by his family, his friends, the Arawa and Maraetai Bowling Clubs, and the whole lawn bowls community.