When George Shaw got a phone call in 1995 inviting him to go to London to interview for Secretary (later renamed Chief Executive) of the English Bowling Association, he was pretty flabbergasted.
Sure … he had thrown his hat in the ring. But for an Antipodean to be considered for the top job in English Bowls was drawing a long bow. Particularly when he later found that 124 people had applied for the job.
“It was going to be a huge adventure not only for me,” recalls George, “But for my wife Donna, and our daughter Annemaree who was in the 6th form at Epsom Girls Grammar. Our son Jason and his wife Rachel had already planned to do their OE in London in 1996.”
By Christmas, George and family had left New Zealand and set up a new home in Worthing, England where the headquarters of the English Bowling Association was located.
The exciting adventure in England was to become another of the great administrative contributions that George Shaw made to the game of bowls … locally, nationally and internationally. It’s a contribution he has only recently retired from to look after the failing health of his wife.
Whilst bowls has been George’s sporting love for many years, it wasn’t his first sports love, nor even his second. George was a cricketer and a golfer before he took to bowls. He even played table tennis on the side.
George was born in Greymouth, but spent his school years in Nelson. “I went off to university in Christchurch where I ended up enjoying too much cricket with the likes of Graham Dowling, Tony Timpson and Peter Morris, when I probably should have been enjoying study. It was fabulous. Even when Gary Bartlett hit me with a 95mph bouncer, and I ended up in Wairau Hospital with a broken wrist trying to fend it off!”
Eventually dropping out, George joined the Bank of New South Wales. At the time It was pretty much a go-to job for young blokes focused on their extra-curricular activities – and for George, it gave him plenty of cricket time. “Despite being transferred to Gore, I was still able to love my cricket. I played Under 23’s for Otago with Keith Campbell … and locally for Southland against cricket greats like John Reid, Bob Blair, Barry Sinclair and Artie Dick.”
As banks did then, he was soon transferred again – this time to New Lynn in Auckland. He joined the Suburbs Cricket Club where Don Taylor, John Kemp and Hedley Howarth played.
“I was only there 5 minutes and the bank transferred me to Wellington,” laughs George. “I was in the ‘Methods and Mechanisation Department’ and I was part of the team that went around the country explaining the introduction of decimal currency to bank branches.” It was 1967, and in-between furloughs away with the bank, George played cricket at the Karori Cricket Club – along with two young blokes called Brian Waddle and John Anderson (who was later to become CEO of the National Bank).
The bank soon transferred George back up to Auckland – where he met his wife-to-be Donna. While he was easing out of cricket, George was immersing himself in golf. He was on a single figure handicap at the Howick Golf Club.
One day in 1976, George took his father Tom to watch the finals of the Bowls National Singles Finals at Onehunga. “Dad loved his bowls. He played at the Northern Bowling Club in Palmerston North with Phil Skoglund. We had a great day at Onehunga. Ivan Kostanich won the final 21-20.”
George was bitten by the bowls bug. And the following year joined the Bucklands Beach Bowling Club. Like cricket and golf before, George didn’t do things in half measures and threw himself into bowls – becoming Chair of the match committee, and Club President in 1984. “I got into the Auckland Centre 1-5 team and eventually the senior team. We won the NationaL Intercentre title in 1992.” George now has a Gold Star for 7 Auckland Centre titles, as well as 2 Waikato and 1 Counties-Manukau title.
In 1988, George started getting really serious about his contribution to bowls administration. He was appointed Deputy Tournament Director for the 1988 Men’s World Bowls Championships at Henderson, and Tournament Director for the Women’s World Bowls Championships later the same year.
In 1989, George was appointed as the first Executive Director of the New Zealand Bowling Association – with a staff of one. Himself!! “I had a modest office,” recalls George, “It wasn’t until 1992 that we moved to where we are now at Penrose.”
In 1990, he was the Bowls Media Liaison Officer for the Commonwealth Games being held in Auckland.
But it was probably his work travelling the country with Kerry Clark (then Chair of the New Zealand Bowling Association) and Bill McCormick to sell the amalgamation with the women, that caught the attention of the English Bowling Association. “They were contemplating the same change,” says George. And this, along with the evolution of the association to Bowls New Zealand, offered the 45 members of the English Executive food for thought. Lots of food as it turned out!
In 1995, George and his family were off to Worthing.
Kerry Clark took over as Chief Executive of Bowls New Zealand. And a Kiwi became head of England bowls.
“It was all much bigger than I had been used to,” says George. “The year I arrived, they had 135,000 men members and 89,000 entrants in their Nationals! And that was down on the previous year. They used to run play-offs in each of the 70 counties in England, and the winner and runner-up in each county sent teams to Worthing. We then played 6-off to get down to 64.”
“But it was the tradition that was astounding,” says George. “I was asked to approve a Presidents match to be held at the Southampton club celebrating its 700th anniversary! That’s 700 years – not 70 years!”
As the head of the English Bowling Association, George represented England on the World Bowls Board, the British Isles Bowls Council, and the England Sports Council which was chaired by the Duke of Edinburgh. He became Tournament Director for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
His work raising £500,000 to prepare the England team for the 2002 Commonwealth Games made heads turn. “England won 3 Gold, 1 Silver and 1 Bronze. They had only won 3 medals in total over the last 5 Games.”
George was presented with a Life Membership of the Manchester Commonwealth Bowls Club and the Worthing Bowling Club, as well as an Honorary Membership of the Wiltshire Bowls Association and the Borough of Worthing.
In 2005, George and Donna ‘retired’ back to New Zealand.
Even then, George kept his hand in – becoming a member of the Zone 2 Regional Advisory Committee in 2005, an Administration Officer for Bowls Counties Manukau in 2010 and a member of the Bowls New Zealand Judicial Committee in 2013.
He was inducted into the Bowls New Zealand Hall of Fame in 2013.
“It’s been a great run,” says George, “It’s a game that’s given me a heck of a lot of pleasure. But Donna is now my first priority.”
We wish George and his wife all the best. Thanks for everything.