Wainuiomata has said goodbye to long-time Labour MP Trevor Mallard and, fittingly, for a man who thrived on the rough and tumble of politics, rugby was at the centre of his farewell.
The Wainuiomata Rugby Football Club​ hosted the event on Saturday, before Mallard heads to Ireland as ambassador in January.
In August Mallard resigned as Parliament’s Speaker, ending a near four decades long parliamentary career. A polarising Speaker, a longstanding electorate MP for Hutt South, and a Labour minister of education and sports, he was the longest serving MP in the House.
At the weekend’s farewell there was a strong Māori and Pasifika presence but one of the most heartfelt speeches came from club centurion and women’s rugby advocate Alice Soper.
She thanked Mallard for his long-term support for women’s rugby and noted he had backed the Black Ferns, well before it became trendy to do so.
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“It may surprise you that Trevor Mallard is a trend setter,” Soper said.
He used his position as a parliamentarian to promote women’s rugby whenever he could and was highly regarded by past and current Black Ferns, she said.
Having seen his daughter, Beth Mallard, playing rugby in Wainuiomata and becoming a Black Fern, he understood the importance of “grassroots” rugby and was a loyal supporter of the women’s game.
After the recent success of the Black Ferns, he was one of the few people entitled to say “I told you so”, Soper said.
Shona Robb​, who spent 14 years in Mallard’s electorate office, recalled an early encounter when he asked her to check a date in his diary, which he wanted to keep clear.
“I told him that there was nothing important, only rugby … I soon learnt how important rugby could be.”
Former MP Luamanuvao Dame Winnie Laban​ said since the Mallard family arrived in Wainuiomata in 1954 Trevor had made a big contribution to the tight-knit community.
“I am very, very proud that my big brother Trevor Mallard became the MP for Pencarrow​ and Hutt South.”
She presented him with a ula fala​ which was a gift to her from a former Samoan Prime Minister. She said it was in recognition of his support of the Laban family and the Samoan community in New Zealand.
“It is a very special honour because you can only wear it when you are a high chief.”
Wainuiomata Marae chairman Star Olsen​ thanked Mallard for all he had done for the marae and the wider community. That support was particularly important earlier this year when anti-mandate protesters tried to take over the marae.
Olsen said a special feature of Wainuiomata had always been its strong family values and the good relationships the community has with its leaders, which Mallard always fostered.
Standing under a framed Wainuiomata jersey of Jonah Lomu, who played for the club, Mallard acknowledged how important rugby had been to him.
Along with National MP Murray McCully, Mallard had started parliamentary rugby in the early 1990s.
He recalled the very first parliamentary game, which was played in Wainuiomata, and featured two former All Black halfbacks, Chris Laidlaw and David Kirk.
“Chris Laidlaw ran onto the field wearing his glasses.”
As well as enjoying watching the game, Mallard said rugby was a good ice-breaker.
On the sidelines, people would feel comfortable to approach him with their concerns and would chat freely about anything.
He was pleased to be going to Ireland but was already “looking forward” to returning to Wainuiomata in three years, he said.
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