Gwen Lawson is thrilled with the Queen’s Service Medal she received in this year’s New Year’s Honours. But even more thrilled and humbled by the work that her many fans must have put in to nominate her for her service to sports administration over 64 years, including lawn bowls.
Her fans must have been lining up to get a piece of the nominee action. So much has been her influence on lawn bowlers in Northland, and for that matter, the rest of New Zealand. That’s without even considering her lifetime of voluntary work in sports including netball, marching, softball and basketball, and in community organisations like Solo Parents.
Gwen has not only been there, done that when it comes to voluntary service … but is still being there, doing that coming up to the age of 80.
“Lawn bowls is my great love,” says Gwen, “but it wasn’t my first love. I joined marching when I was just 8, and I was on the marching Association Committee by the age of 15.” Gwen found herself being a marcher, an instructor, and a qualified judge for the New Zealand Marching Association from 1960, as well as New Zealand Association Treasurer from 1992 to 1994.
In the 50s and 60s she became involved in netball. Like marching, netball was about more than just playing the game. Gwen ended up as Association President for Netball from 1960 to 1962 and an Umpire for Netball New Zealand for 30 years from 1954 to 1985. In 1979, the Northern Advocate described Gwen as a ‘pillar of North netball’.
Lawn bowls didn’t come in to her life until 1972, when a girlfriend talked her in to having a go at the Hikurangi Bowling Club, a few miles north of Whangarei. “I loved it,” says Gwen. And the 46 year association with lawn bowls and the Hikurangi Bowling Club was born.
She was a solo mum for eleven years before her second marriage to ‘Sparkie’ in 1989, which these days has blossomed in to 6 grandkids and 5 great grandkids. It wasn’t until 1986 that Gwen realised that there was more to bowls than playing, and she became the multi-titled and multi-tasked Secretary, Treasurer, Delegate and Executive member of the Northland Women’s Bowling Association.
That simply opened the floodgates.
In 1991, Gwen became The President of the Umpires Association as well as the President of Hikurangi Bowling Club. The following year she became the Hikurangi Centre Delegate – a position she still holds.
She collected another presidency in 1995, becoming President of the Northland Women’s Bowling Association. The same year she volunteered to be the Secretary & Treasurer of the New Zealand Women’s Umpires Association.
In 1996, Gwen widened her administrative portfolio, becoming a Registered Coach, assisting the Director of Coaching in the northern area.
Bowls Northland must have thought all their birthdays had come at once having someone to endlessly volunteer like Gwen. “I became a Selector, Coach and Manager of Northland Representative Teams from 2000 until 2016,” recalls Gwen, “an Executive Member in 2002 of the amalgamated Bowls Northland and served 15 years on the Board, including three years as President and Chairperson from 2011-2014. She became Events Manager and Match Committee Chair in 2003 and currently holds that position.
Meantime she had taken on just about every voluntary job there is to take on in her home club of Hikurangi – Treasurer, Secretary, Match Committee Member, Bar Manager, Caterer … you name it. She has also joined the closer-to-home Kamo Bowling Club, where she enjoys just playing as a club member.
Until 21 years ago, Gwen was also working a full-time job in Whangarei. And ‘annual leave’ was about going to the Nationals every year and playing in the tournament with friends. “I went 16 years in a row,” says Gwen, “we even got through to the last sixteen and quarter-finals a couple of times”.
These days, she just likes to go to the North Island Chartered Clubs Tournament – in November 2018 it was in Tokoroa. “The four of us have a ball,” laughs Gwen.
In May, Gwen and her family will find themselves at Government House in Auckland, where she will be invested with the Queen’s Service Medal. “I am looking forward to it,” says Gwen. The QSM will accompany another of Gwen’s service awards received in 2009 – the Sport Northland Service to Sport Award.
It’s great recognition for someone who has done, and continues to do, so much for lawn bowls.
Thanks for everything, Gwen.