IHC pays tribute to JB Munro – a character and a force for people with intellectual disabilities

IHC wishes to pay tribute to IHC New Zealand Life Member JB Munro, who passed away in Christchurch on 4 June 2018.

 

JB Munro, QSO, is a legend in the disability sector – spending 20 years working for IHC including as National Director and then as Chief Executive until he retired in 1998. That year he also became an IHC New Zealand Life Member – a distinguished honour given to a very small number of individuals who have made a significant contribution.

 

“There was so much that happened during JB’s time,” says current IHC Chief Executive Ralph Jones. “It was an extraordinary time that saw the end of institutionalisation for thousands of people who were integrated into mainstream life – often for the first time.

 

“It was also a time of the rise of disability rights, which was challenging social stigma and expectations around disability.”

 

JB himself said, ''It was a very hard battle. But I wouldn't change it for anything… No-one should be institutionalised.''

 

JB was a force on the national stage, in the Pacific and wider including with Inclusion International – an organisation that also made him an honorary Life Member in 2006. But alongside that determination was JB’s heart for individuals. “People have said that JB kept a register with every name on it,” says Ralph Jones. “So that he could make sure everyone’s life was being improved.”

 

“For JB the personal relationships were important.”

 

JB was born on August 15, 1936, the son of a 16-year-old girl from Gore. He understood about disability and about being in care. He contracted polio as a baby and he became a ward of the State. He was fostered, at a few months old, by Invercargill farmers William and Lily Munro. They fought to finally adopt him despite being told they were too old. His adoptive brother was Burt Munro, the motorcycle racer of The World's Fastest Indian fame.

 

JB went on to be a Labour MP for Invercargill and chair of the Social Services Select Committee. JB helped bring in the Disabled Persons’ Community Welfare Act in 1975, which was a milestone in improving accessibility for disabled people. “I was so frustrated at the lack of action in getting people with disabilities recognised in the system,” JB said.

 

His interest in disability and the welfare of people in care has been life-long. For seven years, JB was president of the New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare Agencies.

 

JB was a supreme fundraiser for IHC and beyond. He was Vice-Chairman of the 1981 Telethon fundraiser for the International Year of Disabled Persons, which raised more than $6m. New Zealand’s Total Mobility scheme (providing taxi discounts) and Teletext were both started with Telethon funding.

 

He was the first person to do disability television. Long before Attitude TV, JB fronted for the camera at the Avalon Television Studios in Lower Hutt with a show focused on IHC news. The Sunday morning shows – Get Together and IHC Update – started in the early 1990s.

 

JB Munro won the Attitude Awards’ highest honour in December 2014, being inducted into its Hall of Fame for lifelong service to the disability community. The award acknowledged that huge impact.

 

“IHC has been around for 69 years – and JB Munro is one of its strongest and best loved characters,” says Ralph Jones. “Until recently JB was still attending AGMs and other significant IHC events. He was still advocating for people with intellectual disabilities and still keeping an eye on the rest of us.

 

“On behalf of IHC, our thoughts are with Valmai, and their family.

 

“IHC, its members and the many families and individuals whose lives have been made better by JB’s work join together to pay tribute to a friend and an extraordinary man who truly made a difference.”

 

Ralph Jones
Chief Executive