Sir John  Todd RIP – Eulogy

POSTED: 10 AUGUST 2015:


Many RCW members attended the funeral last Tuesday afternoon of the late Sir John Todd, club member for more than 45 years, former President, Paul Harris Fellow.

At the service held in Wellington Cathedral his son Michael delivered the following Eulogy.

John Todd loved gatherings of family and friends and meeting new people. He enjoyed the lightness of laughter, and conversation about ideas and about the world and ways of making it better.

He loved good food and fine wine. He loved music. He loved to sing. And he loved to dance.

As I look around this gathering of his family and friends, as I hear the music Dad held dear, and as I look forward to the later sharing of good food and fine wine, I know that wherever Dad finally may be, right now he is with each of us, with all of us, as we share our grief, celebrate his life, and farewell him on his next and perhaps his final trip abroad.

The last months were frustrating and difficult for Dad, and for those who loved and cared for him. There are many to thank. In particular his doctors – his close friend and GP Tony Crutchley and Swee Tan, Craig McKinnon and the team at Hutt Hospital. 

Inevitably in his circumstances there was a public John Todd. His public life is well documented and his honours well known. I am not here to talk about those.

I want to talk about the private John Todd, the family man and the philanthropist who enjoyed his life and enjoyed making the lives of others better.

For someone who loved cars and fine food, Dad had the wisdom to choose his parents well. As you may know, the family of his father Desmond Todd, later Sir Desmond Todd, was in the car business. You may not know that the family of his mother Rita Edmonds, later Lady Todd, was in the baking business.

I was going to suggest here that John Todd was sure to rise, but decided that was more predictable than droll. 

JohnTodd, as his mother always called him, was born in 1927 in Wellington. He grew up in the family home in Kelburn with his sisters Virginia and Paddy. He was educated at Wellesley College and St Pats Silverstream, where he was a weekly boarder in his final school year. He nearly didn’t complete that year. He and school friends were caught drinking sherry on the train in school uniform when returning to college. He was nearly expelled. It may have been the beginning of his love for fine wine. JohnTodd loved his sport. But Silverstream was a Marist Brothers school. It offered only two sports, both compulsory – cricket in summer and rugby in winter. The cricket was fine. But Dad had never played rugby.

Full of enthusiasm he ran onto the field for his first game, was promptly tackled and immediately broke his arm. He did not play rugby again but he did retain his passion for the sport that lasted to the end. 

Despite a hankering to be an architect or a jazz singer it was perhaps inevitable that JohnTodd would work in the family business. He began at Todd Motors, at the age of 18.

As in most family businesses, he had to begin at the bottom – on the Hillman assembly line, wielding a spot welder. He didn’t last long. An informed insider told me years ago that you could almost hear a cheer go around the workshop when the company’s worst welder was promoted to sales.

Back in Wellington from Petone, Dad was able to begin part-time study for a BCom.

He tells a wonderful story that about this time he took friends for day trip to Paraparaumu Beach in a company car – a Hillman of course. The day went well but when it was time to drive home it was discovered that the car was
stuck in reverse gear. Undeterred, JohnTodd piled everyone in and set off backwards for Wellington. The plan was abandoned at Paekakariki and they all took the train home. JohnTodd assured me it was an isolated production defect, that it was covered by warranty, and that it had nothing to do with the welding.

Dad loved playing tennis. He was an aggressive and accomplished player, well-schooled by his mother.

It was at the local tennis club that he met my mother, Beverley Stock. They were both very young, barely in their 20s. Both families tried to slow down the budding romance.

JohnTodd’s father took him to America to meet the Chrysler People, travelling in style on the new double-decker Boeing StratoCruiser. My mother’s father whisked her off on a long trip to England to meet her extended English family. The separation only increased their determination and their engagement was announced as soon as they returned to New Zealand. They were married in 1950. JohnTodd was 23 and mum was 21. They settled in Khandallah via Karori, and the Todd production line soon ensured that the family grew to include myself and my sisters Jenny, Katrina and Nicki.

For Dad, life was a constant challenge of balancing the demands of family and business. His first executive appointment at Todd Motors was in 1954. He became a director of Todd Motors in 1957 and by 1968 he was Managing Director, reporting to a Board chaired by his father. He continued as Managing Director of Todd Motors until 1986 when it was sold to Mitsubishi.

There were many challenges and achievements during that time. But the achievement closest to my father’s heart was the development of the Todd Park production complex in Porirua during the 1970s. Finally the frustrated architect was able to have his way. But what was most important to Dad was the impact the development of Todd Park had on the City of Porirua. It not only created employment, it attracted other businesses to the city. The social and economic benefits for Porirua were huge. The design of the Todd Park administration building provided Dad with a blank canvas of wall space which, with the help of Peter McLeavy, he covered with contemporary New Zealand art. As the walls increasingly filled with shapes and colours the staff thought Dad had gone mad. But it was not long before they adopted their favourite works as “their pictures”. It is regarded today as an iconic collection of 60s and 70s New Zealand art.

In 1987, following the sale of Todd Motors to Mitsubishi and the death of Sir Bryan Todd, Dad became Chairman of the remaining companies in the family Group and the Todd Corporation was created. It is amazing to consider that at this stage in his career John Todd was 60 years old, an age when most men are contemplating retirement. But for Dad this was the beginning of yet another stage in his career, one that was to last for 28 years. It was also the beginning of his new life with Teena Bamber, now Lady Todd. Together they shared companionship, travel, love and laughter. I want to thank Teena for the support and love she provided to Dad throughout their marriage, but particularly over the period of his illness.

For Dad, family holidays were sacred. Before cell phones and the internet, they really were a time away from work and a time with the family. The holidays almost always were in Taupo, with Colin Martin and his family. He was Dad’s best friend from Wellesley College days. Winters were spent skiing on the mountain. Summers were spent boating and fishing on the lake - and water-skiing. Dad taught us all to water-ski and it became a family passion. When he wasn’t driving the boat, always fast, he was in the water helping another convert to get started. Like his tennis, his slalom style was aggressive. His falls were epic. So were his broken ribs. The holiday home we built on the shores of Lake Taupo became the centre of family good times and a gathering place for family and friends. It could sleep 14 easily. It was a place of good fun, good food, fine wine, music, laughter and conversation.

At home in Khandallah there always was Dad the tennis coach, Dad the cricket coach and Dad the personal trainer. My sister Jenny recalls that most weeks in the summer, after work, Dad would play tennis with her. He would never let her win. She had to earn that honour. 

We all recall with meagre enthusiasm the compulsory 5BX army exercise programme Dad would put us through first thing in the morning. 

I learned of JFK’s assassination from the morning news while Dad and I were jogging - on the spot - at the top of the stairs. Music, dance and the performing arts were important to the family. Mum loved ballet and that interest rubbed off on my sisters, especially Katrina - and on my father. 

He passed his love of reading on to us all, especially to my sister Nicki.

He was a self-taught pianist and an inspiration on the ukulele, which he loved to play with others.

He was a performing member of the Khandallah Arts Theatre and later became its Patron. I well remember his performances - from the serious in Waiting for Godot, to the fun in Salad Days, and the hilarity of a review that included Dad and other Khandallah fathers dancing movements from Swan Lake dressed in tutus and tights. His children were proud that John Todd had the best legs by far. 

But it was jazz that really spoke to him. Whenever near a microphone and great music John the Jazz Singer would emerge, soulful and engaged, and surprisingly good. JohnTodd’s interests led him down many pathways and he followed them all with commitment and loyalty.

Among others he was -
• A long term, Member and Past President of the Wellington Rotary Club,
• A Member of the Queen Elizabeth Arts Council
• A Member of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand
• A Trustee of the Royal New Zealand Ballet Trust
• Former Chair of the New Zealand Ballet Foundation
• Former Chair of the New Zealand School of Dance Trust
• Former Chair of the Dorothy Daniels Foundation
• A Member of the World Wildlife Find
• A Member of Voluntary Service Abroad
• A Member of the Duke of Edinburgh Award World Fellowship
• Former Chair of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award New Zealand Foundation
• A Member of the Court of Honour of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
• A Member of the Institute of Policy Studies at Victoria University
• A Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Directors
• A Past Director of WestPac Banking Corporation and a Member of its New Zealand
• Advisory Committee
• A Past President of the Wellington Manufacturers’ Association
• A Member of the Overseas Investment Commission
• A Member of the International Marketing Institute of New Zealand
• Former Chair of the New Zealand Lottery General Committee of the New Zealand
• Lottery Board
• and importantly -
• A Member of the Beefsteak and Burgundy Club of Wellington
• A Member of the Magnum Society
• and –
• A Member of the Royal Wellington Golf Club
But Dad’s greatest and most enduring passion was for The Todd Foundation. 

Like all of us in the family, from early in his life Dad was made aware of the privilege his family enjoyed and that with that privilege came a responsibility to use it to improve the lives of others. 

The Todd Foundation was formed in 1972 by Dad, Sir Bryan and Andrew Todd. Initially it was funded by the family through a grant from Todd Motors.

The Foundation provided a formal structure for the family’s philanthropic giving. Dad nurtured its grant programme and in the early days also managed it personally. It soon became apparent that it would require its own professional management team.

While Dad’s involvement in the management of the Foundation changed, he continued as Chairman of its three operating committees, ensuring it became more focused, more proactive in its giving and more engaged with those seeking its assistance.

He often met with those receiving Foundation grants so he could better understand their needs and how those needs were being met.

Dad remained as Chairman of the Todd Foundation until only weeks before his death and he championed it and other family giving to the end. 

As I said at the beginning, Dad enjoyed his life and enjoyed making the lives of others better. 

Yes, in so many ways his life was blessed. But Dad never forgot that, and he embraced and worked with passion at the art of the heart. 

John Todd was a man of enterprise, integrity and grace.
He was our father.
We loved him and we shall miss him.

Sir John Todd RIP – Eulogy

 
 
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