Tony Lepper : ONZM

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If you’re like me, the New Years Honours and Queens Birthday Honours lists are a must-read.

There’s always the obvious recipients who have emerged as household names over the recent years … the likes of Taika Waititi, Kieran Read, and the retiring Mike Bush.  Then there’s seemingly a slew of names which ring no bell at all (or maybe a little tingle), but which recognise the wonderful achievements of heretofore unheralded Kiwis working tirelessly behind the scenes.

There’s also people we do know, but don’t know we know.  Because the Department of Internal Affairs insists on using names that only the recipients’ mothers would ever have used.

Like Anthony Bruce Lepper, who popped up in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours.


Mrs Lepper may have known him as ‘Anthony Bruce’, but to us all in the bowls community he’s just plain ‘Tony’ … the boss of Bowls New Zealand who’s just received a well-deserved gong for his services to sports administration and local government.

“I’ve been sitting on the news for a couple of months,” says Tony, “It’s been very exciting.”

And so it should be.  Tony’s just been awarded Order of New Zealand Medal or ONZM.  It’s the modern day equivalent of the old Officer of the British Empire (OBE).  And just one below ‘Sir Tony’.

The ONZM is well-deserved.  Not only for all the work that Tony has put into bowls (which in the bowls community we have some inkling of), but the amazing service he has also put in to many other sports and local body affairs (which most of us have little inkling of).

Being on the Board of Bowls New Zealand for the last 5 years (the last 3 years as Chair) is merely one of his many sporting involvements.

Tony was on the Clyde Earnscleugh Rugby Club Committee for 27 years, including 13 years as Treasurer and 3 years as President.

He helped introduce canoe polo to the Central Otago area, becoming Treasurer of the Central Otago White Water Club and helping get resource consent for the Hawea Water Park.

Tony was the Treasurer of the Central Otago Multisport Club from 2006 to 2013.

He is the immediate Past-President of the Central Otago Racing Club.

Tony was the Chair of Sport Otago from 2006 to 2013, and chaired the committee to set up the annual Central Otago Sports Awards - a position he still fills today.

“I’ve always been pretty handy with Cashmanager cash management software,” says Tony, “so was always getting co-opted to do the books for various sports organisations.  That’s how I became involved in so many sports.”

Tony’s involvement in the local body affairs of Central Otago has been just as extensive.

He became involved with the privatisation of the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme when the government decided to get out of irrigation in 1989.  He was a member of the Clyde Recreational and Reserve Committee in 1989, staying until 2010 and was made a Life Member in 2009.

He served two terms as Mayor of Central Otago from 2010.

And more recently in 2017, he was appointed to the New Zealand Conservation Authority.

And all that’s outside his personal life.

Tony’s originally a Hawkes Bay boy.  He picked up a degree in History and Economics at Canterbury University in the late 70’s, did a year at teachers college and even did a year teaching before his future wife, Bernie, distracted him and they made a home on a 6.5 hectare cherry farm outside Alexandra.

Their family expanded with the birth of Blake (now a lawyer in Christchurch) and Brie (now an Accountant in Invercargill).  “We treat the seasonal workers that come from Vanuatu every year to help with the cherries as a big family these days – some have been coming for 15 years.”

When it comes to sport, Tony has always regarded himself as a journeyman. But he played cricket and rugby passionately at school, at university, and up until he was 40.  “Bernie’s the one that’s great at sport,” he laughs, “She came second in the Speight’s Longest Day in 1998, won the Southern Traverse in 1999, and she just completed a 1000km cycle race across the North Island just before lockdown.”

“I got into bowls when they were building the Clyde Dam.  It was a ‘think big’ project.  There was a lot of money sloshing around for community amenities so the powers that be built a 4-rink indoor outdoor bowling green.  I started playing bowls there.”

“I played there on and off for 25 years.  It wasn’t an accredited club, so when I joined the Clyde Bowling Club in 2014, I was regarded as a first year and a junior.  I think I won 3 of the first 5 years club junior titles!  But you won’t find my name on many honours boards!”

“These days I’m more focussed on evolving the game of bowls.  We have an exciting future.”

“Firstly, I’m keen to accelerate the diversity we already have in our sport – to gain greater women’s participation and integration; to gain greater age participation, and to gain greater participation from all communities.”

“Secondly, the board is very keen to promote the idea of the bowling club as an important community hub … which meets bowls, social and community needs.”

“Thirdly, we need to de-mystify the game.  We need to rip down the fences so the public can see what’s going on.  We need to lessen the restrictions and rules, so that the public can see that we’re just ordinary people enjoying ourselves.”

“And fourthly, we need to create a popular short form of the game.  The public need to be able to dip their toe in the water, and enjoy an exciting form of bowls … easily and quickly.”

“We’re getting great help from Sport New Zealand, and Peter Miskimmin.  They’re impressive.  In fact I got far more help in improving my governance skills from Sport NZ than I got in 27 years of local government.”

Well done, Tony.  Keep up the great work for bowls.

Congratulations on your well-deserved ONZM.

-Rob Davis