SPAIN, John #392 - Far North (& Otago)
Shortly before Christmas, NZMCA members throughout the country were saddened to hear of the death, after a brief illness, of John Spain – a man known to many as Mr NZMCA.
A member for more than half a century, John took on pretty well every position within the NZMCA – at both Area and national level – and along with his wife Margaret (Maggie) was one of the first 20 people honoured with Life Membership of the club way back in 1992. While not formally involved in the leadership team in recent years, John’s influence – and his willingness to have his say at national AGMs – has been significant in ensuring that today’s leaders never lose sight of their responsibility to the membership.
John, who was a chef in the Navy, and Margaret, a young nurse, met on a blind date and were still in their 20s when they first joined the NZMCA, way back in 1968. They were running a restaurant in Dunedin at the time, Margaret recalls, and John was building a motorhome to use as a mobile kitchen for their business. His efforts were spotted by a local member, Ray Keen, who suggested he join the club.
The rest, as they say, is history… Mind you, the Association back then was nothing like it is now. “Even though we joined 12 years after the NZMCA was formed, at that stage we still had less than 400 members – and probably only 200 of them were still active in the club,” John recalled a few years ago.
“So, when we did our first big trip up to Cape Reinga from Dunedin it was absolutely marvellous to see a set of wings on another van as you were travelling. It was just so unusual, we’d stop in the middle of the road and talk to each other.”
Back home in Dunedin, John – a man of boundless enthusiasm – soon got involved on the local Area committee: “That was John to a T, he never did anything by halves,” says Margaret. By the mid-70’s John’s full-on involvement saw him elected as the national Vice-President – a role he fulfilled for four years – before becoming Treasurer for nine years, Association president for two years (1996-98); and then Vice-President again for another four years in the early 2000s. On top of that he ran the NZMCA’s Insurance scheme from 1989 to 1995.
That bare list of dates however only hints at John’s commitment. Although he was never officially recognised as the Editor of the club’s magazine, he and Margaret were heavily involved in its publication for some years, arranging for it to be printed and laboriously packaging up and mailing out copies to members throughout the country from their home.
In his role as Treasurer in the 1980s John and Margaret – who by the way, also served on the Executive and was the club’s first (and so far only) lady Vice-President in 1983/84 – moved north from Dunedin and lived in their motorhome Espana on a bare section in the Auckland suburb of Milford. That was to enable John to establish the NZMCA’s first ‘office’. Somewhere amongst all this, John and Margaret also found time to volunteer as Self Containment Officers – a role they fulfilled for some 25 years.
In 2004 as the club looked ahead to its 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2006, John was a natural choice to write the history of the first 50 years of the NZMCA. As a result, John spent two years of ‘intense concentration’ writing and editing ‘Down Memory Lane’ – an invaluable record of the Association’s history.
For most of the past 25 years John and Margaret had lived in their van travelling the country and meeting members wherever they went. “We just loved the comradeship,” said Margaret. “We particularly loved the Far North – we spent most of our winters there, the members were very welcoming and eventually said we should join the Area. So we did.”
The couple were in the Far North when John received the bad news about his health and quickly arranged to head back south to family and friends in Otago. Despite his dire outlook, it will be no surprise to those members who knew John, to learn that even in the last few weeks of his life he was seeking to better the organisation.
At its December meeting the Board reacted favourably to a proposal from the long-serving stalwart that action be taken to protect the Association’s history. Margaret says John was thrilled to hear that good news from President Bruce Stanger in the days before he passed away.
RIP Mr NZMCA – you were one of a kind; but your legacy will live on.