Colin Meads never stopped looking for ways to make life better for people with intellectual disabilities.
IHC was privileged to have the support of the big man since 1974. He was a man who was generous with his name and his fame, driven by a strong belief that people with intellectual disabilities deserved the best. He believed that as a former All Black, with the opportunities he had been given, meant he had a responsibility to lend a hand where he could.
The legendary ‘Pinetree’ Meads played 133 matches for the All Blacks between 1957 and 1971. He was on our team for 43 years.
Colin threw his weight behind IHC after he stopped playing rugby. In 1974 he announced he was taking a two-year break to spend some time with his wife, Verna. An IHC delegation from IHC in Hamilton saw their chance and turned up to the Te Kuiti farm for tea and scones. By the time they left, Colin had agreed to head up a newly formed King Country sub-branch.
“I said then I would give you two years. Within two years I was on the National Fundraising Committee,” Colin said in his last interview with Community Moves. The two-year deadline came and went.
“We were going through the process of getting people away from the big institutions and out into the community,” he says. Residential homes were soon established in Otorohanga, Taumarunui and Te Kuiti.
He often spoke about one young man from Kimberley Hospital in Levin, who became his friend. “Dean Walker had been there since he was five.” He was 15 or 16 when he left the institution to live in Te Kuiti and he became part of the community. “It was the greatest move. Deano became part of the Waitete Rugby Club, so one thing led to another.”
Colin put his money where his mouth was. Rugby in those days wasn’t professional and there were rules around fees. So Colin and the IHC branch set up a special account into which he donated the proceeds from his many speaking engagements. In 1988 this money went towards buying a farm in Te Kuiti for people with intellectual disabilities. The idea was to provide employment and teach farming skills and it became home to Dean and other men with disabilities for many years. The 4-hectare smallholding called Pinetree Farm is still owned by IHC and used as accommodation for people with intellectual disabilities.
He remained concerned at the lack of employment opportunities for young people with disabilities and recalled the pride when someone got a job. “I can remember the thrill of some of them getting their first pay. That was theirs; they were going to bank it.”
Lately Colin had suggested to the IHC King Country Association that it might be time to move on, and arrangements are being made to sell the farm and reinvest the money in housing improvements in the King Country for people in IHC residential homes.
Colin was knighted in 2001, but didn’t use the title ‘Sir’. That would have set him apart. He was more comfortable kicking a ball around with a young disabled rugby player or standing for long hours at Mystery Creek Fieldays, whipping up support for IHC among his fellow farmers.
Colin was a natural fundraiser and backed a number of ingenious farm-based fundraising schemes. He bought a horse each year at the yearling sales, and he and IHC supporters sold raffle tickets around the district for $10 a go. They raised between $110,000 and $120,000 a horse. Colin also supported farmers Norm Cashmore, from Taranaki, and Mick Murphy, from Marlborough, who started the IHC Calf Scheme in 1983. They encouraged dairy farmers to raise a calf and donate the proceeds to IHC in exchange for a pair of gumboots.
“I used to praise up the farmers. In those days you would get $90 for calf – you get a lot more than that now,” Colin said.
When the farms got bigger, Colin told the large herd owners to think about donating even more calves. The IHC Calf & Rural Scheme is still going 33 years later and it raises more than $1 million annually for people with disabilities.
When Colin was made a distinguished companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit from Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright in 2001 “she said this is not just for your rugby, this is for your work with IHC also. I was quite proud of it to be honest”.
In a 2008 interview with the Ministry of Social Development’s Rise magazine, Colin argued for comprehensive IHC funding to provide services for people with intellectual disabilities.
"They're all our people. They should have the best of everything in life, rather than us. And it should be us that provide it for them."
When Colin and Verna retired from their farm they moved to live in the Te Kuiti township, with three of their five children nearby. They have 14 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. On his 81st birthday on 3 June 2017 Te Kuiti unveiled a statue to him.
Colin was a supporter of the IHC Calf Scheme from the start and its patron since 2002. He was also a New Zealand Life Member of IHC.