Sir Ron Scott

Old Boy Sir Ron Scott (1942-46) passes away aged 88

Obituary for Sir Ron Scott

Whatever Sir Ron Scott did in his life, and there was much, he will always be remembered as the main who, considerably more than any other single individual, turned Christchurch’s hopeful dream into the wildly successful reality of the Commonwealth Games in 1974.

As Christchurch people through 1973 and into the summer were urged to support, volunteer or contribute, there was a saying around the city: “For God, for Queen and for Ron Scott.” Not necessarily in that order.

Sir Ron who died on August 7 but whose death was not made public by his family until after a private burial in Christchurch, was the public face and the private, relentless worker for the 10th Commonwealth Games, which are still sometimes regarded as the best and the friendliest.

It is not an exaggeration to say that but for him, the Games would have been less of a success and may not have even been held.

Although forever associated with Christchurch, Sir Ron’s life began in Dunedin and ended in Wellington. He was born to Margaret (nee Stewart) and James Scott in Dunedin on January 21 1928. When he was at Otago Boys’ High School between 1942 and 1946, he was listed as being from the small rural community of Otaio, 22km south of Timaru, which helps explain why he played rugby for South Canterbury. His working life started in Dunedin with the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation. It was there he gained a liking for the advertising life and joined the agency J Ilott Ltd, in Christchurch. It was soon after moving that he married Beverley Joan O’Rourke, and they had two sons and a daughter.

Sir Ron became a referee when his rugby-playing days were over and was a keen squash player but had no particular attachment to sport when he was approached in in 1964 to become involved in the fledgling move to have the Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. When the phone call came, he was reading one of the six volumes of Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War. He gave a quick “yes” because he wanted to get back to the book. The phone call changed his life.

Sir Rob was shoulder-tapped because of his skill at advertising and publicity. His first title was publicity officer but others involved soon saw him as a leader. There were three goals: first, to get the Christchurch City Council to agree to the Games. Second, to get the New Zealand Olympic and British Empire Games Association (as it then was) to agree to the Christchurch bid. And third, to convince the rest of the Commonwealth Christchurch was the place to be.

Sir Ron became the standard-bearer. Christchurch beat Auckland for the right to bid for two reasons, according to the association chairman at the time, Lance Cross. One was that Auckland hosted the Games in 1950, the other was the quality of Scott’s detailed presentation. 

The initial aim was to have the Games in 1970 but they were given to Edinburgh, so it was to Edinburgh in 1970 that the Commonwealth went and so did Scott and his team for another crack. Their opponent was Melbourne and Christchurch won easily, 36 votes to two. Sir Ron used to laugh later that the party featuring Bluff oysters and New Zealand beer did the trick, but it was more likely his quiet, understated reasoning and his appeal to small country.

People seemed to warm naturally to him, even those who disagreed with him: on the local stage, Christchurch Mayor Neville Pickering (the two men took some time to agree on venues), and internationally, Abraham Ordia, the influential secretary of the Supreme Council for Sport in Africa. A South African rugby team had been due to tour New Zealand in 1973 and Sir Rob knew that if it had happened, it could have been a disaster for the Games, because Ordia would have ensured African counties stayed away. Prime Minister Norman Kirk, for stated reasons that had nothing to do with the Commonwealth Games, told rugby authorities to call the tour off, and they did. It was a mental conflict for Sir Rob; he wanted the Games to be a success of course, but he fervently believed in the rights of sports bodies to make their own decisions. He made no secret of that with Ordia and other influential people of a tour of Africa: his frankness endeared them to him.

It helped the Christchurch cause that the chairman of the Ilotts agency was Harold Austad, who had been involved in both Olympic and Empire Games since that late 1920s and who managed the New Zealand team at the Rome Olympics. He ensured Sir Rob could take leave on full pay for more than a year while he worked on the Games; effectively, he was an executive chairman.

Afterwards, with the Games an outstanding success and Sir Rob made a knight bachelor by a grateful government, he seemed to be the first asked whenever a sports job had to be done. He headed a government inquiry into sport (“Sport on the Move”), he was chairman of the Hillary Commission, a founding director of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and chairman of the America’s Cup Challenge Trust. The full list was a long one.

He and his family moved to Wellington and Sir Ron continued with his own fine arts business, which he set up after the Games. He was also chef de mission of the New Zealand team at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles in 1984. It was typical of his easy charm that at a grand pre Games reception, he was found in a corner chatting animatedly with two extremes of the sporting world, Lord Porritt and Nadia Comaneci. And it was typical of Sir Ron’s quick wit when, towards the end of those Games, the Australian manager suggested a joint Anzac end-of-Games party. “Sure,” Sir Rob said without hesitating, “you bring the beet and we’ll bring the medals.”

Sir Rob, who was 88, is survived by his wife Beverley and their two sons and a daughter.