Half a century is quite a decent chunk of time.
Next year, Palmerston North celebrates its sesquicentennial – that’s 150 years of ‘Palmerston’ and ‘North’ together in the same placename. Fifty years therefore equates to one whole third of this town’s existence. That’s how long Brian Watt has been serving the community as a member of the Lions Club of Middle Districts.
The second-longest serving member of Lions Clubs International, Brian – a former general manager of well-known local firm Leader & Watt, and the company’s board chair since 1992 – signed on as a Lion in 1970, a year after the club gained its charter. His first project that year was to fundraise for a foetal heart monitor at Palmerston North Hospital, and Brian has been a fundraising force for the Club ever since.
He can remember helping construct the 1971 combined City Lions Clubs’ Centennial Project, an area of raised walled garden with a water feature known as the Lion’s Den on The Square at the end of Main St East, adjacent to the former Public Library building – now the Square Centre.
As well as serving as a local member, including as Club president in 1978-79, Brian was part of the Lloyd Morgan Lions Club Charitable Trust team that brought former US President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn to Palmerston North in February 1984.
Established in 1979, the Trust was named for Lower Hutt Lion Lloyd Morgan, the only person from Australasia to serve as World President of Lions international.
Carter, a one-term Democratic President occupied the White House from 1977-81. He attracted an audience of 800 to the Pascal Street Stadium, now Fly Palmy Arena, to take in a proms concert by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and to hear his address at the fourth annual Lloyd Morgan Charitable Trust dinner.
The visit is commemorated in the annual Jimmy Carter Quiz competition for Manawatū high schools.
Since 1989 Brian has served as administration officer for The Lloyd Morgan Trust, and was its Chair from 1994-97. This was during the Trust’s ambitious project to establish the National Lions Liver Transplant Unit in Auckland, which performed its first surgeries with Mayo Clinic trained Kiwi surgeon Stephen Munn in February 1998.
Before then, any New Zealander requiring a liver transplant had to find up to $150,000 to fund their own off-shore life-saving surgery either in Brisbane or the USA.
The $2.3 million raised by the Trust for this remains the largest fundraising project NZ Lions Clubs have ever undertaken.
Recognised as ‘the face of the Trust’, over the past 31 years Brian has helped issue more than 6,000 framed certificates to recognise exceptional financial contributions from members that are used to supplement local, regional and national Lions project fundraising. Among these were 13 specific Palmerston North ventures, including more than $18,000 towards Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery.
As well as his Trust work, from 1984-5, Brian oversaw 55 regional Lions Clubs as District Governor. This was the only role for which he ever received remuneration in his 50 years of community health, wellbeing and welfare-focused work. In 1986, he was elected as Council Chair to mentor and guide the organisation’s 10 NZ District Governors.
Effective clubs need effective leaders, and as well as fulfilling his national roles, Brian continued to make meaningful contributions alongside his local club members.
A Lions Club of Middle Districts signature event is the annual October Lions Market Day, with the 63rd of these being held on Te Marae o Hine/The Square this year.
The club coordinated the construction of the Rescue Helicopter Hanger at the hospital and provides support for the chopper’s ongoing operations.
Among other regular beneficiaries of Middle Districts Lions Club, fundraising and volunteer work are Arohanui Hospice, Relay for Life, the annual Foodbank Food Drive, and Ronald McDonald House in Wellington – while members carry out a wide variety of community chores on behalf of the city’s less able residents.