Ponsonby Life Member, former Chairman and President Peter Harwood, passes away
Peter Keith Harwood, MNZM 22 August 1939 – 17 March 2023
The Ponsonby District Rugby Club sadly acknowledges the passing of one of its outstanding administrators and Life Members, Dr Peter Harwood. He was 83.
Peter did not have an extensive playing background at high levels of the game, but he gave a great deal to rugby over many years. A lot of this work was done while he lived in Melbourne, where he eventually became Dean of Monash University, and he fondly remembered those days in what was pretty much frontier territory for the rugby code.
When he came to Ponsonby, he was much closer to the heart of the game but also much closer to a life-and-death struggle that was going on at the club. The fact the club still lives today is testament to the work done, in conjunction with a tight core of no more than a dozen notable club men, as its ongoing future was often a day-to-day proposition.
Peter Harwood carried a heavy load for many years, as he was in the Chair for most of the wretched times of the 1990s when the club’s future was on a knife-edge. It wasn’t as if he had all the time in the world on his hands, since he was a leading figure at the AUT – and the organiser of the scholarships that became available to young Ponsonby players - but somehow managed to shoehorn another fulltime workload into his already busy schedule.
When the dust had settled – and it took years – Ponsonby began its upward climb of the late 1990s. Harwood had proven to be the right man in the right place, with a special skill at delegating a job to the best possible person and then making sure it was followed through to completion. The 125th Jubilee, in 1999, also occurred on his watch and was a much happier time than those difficult years which immediately preceded it.
Peter suggested the title for the club history produced to coincide with that Jubilee – Passion and Pride – and he had both in abundance. He stepped down from the Chair in 2002, partly due to ill health, and was immediately elected a Life Member. He still served on the committee when he could and also served a popular term as President.
Harwood was very much in tune with the community of Ponsonby rugby and how it fitted into the larger community of Auckland. If he felt there was perhaps some area where the club’s presumed place in the social order fell short of what he expected, he quietly went about addressing that shortfall. He understood the importance of our club to Maori and Pasifika peoples, and made sure others didn’t forget either. To say he embraced the culture of Ponsonby rugby was to understate the situation and his contribution. A man of many talents and interests, he explored avenues that many in his rugby position might have ignored, and such exploration normally led to cultural and intellectual stimulation in the club.
‘Helping make the world a better place’ was one of his measures of success, and he did that many times over. Among his contributions to society in general was the founding of New Zealand’s first Citizens Advice Bureau, in 1970. The number of people who have been helped by this one institution over 50 years would be hard to arrive at, but the benefit to each one would be incalculable.
Harwood was a regular attendee at Ponsonby games to the end of the 2022 season and, in true Ponsonby style, never met a referee he liked. His glass was half-full, if he was lucky, on the sideline (often the tide was right out), and a man who seemed surprised when his favourites hauled another win out of the bag, despite years and years of watching it happen on a near-weekly basis.
Respected by all he came into contact with, Harwood’s true value to Ponsonby may never be fully appreciated except by those he toiled so hard alongside when nothing but total effort and commitment was going to save the club from extinction. He deserves to be ranked high on any list of the most notable administrators the club has ever been lucky enough to count among its own.
Peter Harwood had the ability to encourage people to produce more, without ever belittling their efforts. He just had a way of making everyone want to dig a little deeper, to be a little better, to not let the person next to them down. If what we saw at the rugby club was even matched in his academic pursuits, his students were lucky. We at Ponsonby know we were.
He was awarded the MNZM in 2008, for services to the community and to Maori.
Peter Keith Harwood MNZM died at Auckland on 17 March 2023.