Remembering Donald Thompson ONZM

It is with great sadness that I share the news that our former IHC President, Chair and IHC New Zealand Life Member Donald Thompson has died.

Donald passed away while tramping on Monday. He was 69.

Donald, a former Oamaru farmer, served at every voluntary level of the organisation over 35 years and was widely known and admired within IHC.

He became a member of IHC not long after his daughter, Karen, was born in 1981 with a rare genetic condition and needed significant support.

He was always ready to share their family’s experiences with Karen if he thought he could encourage others. “It was difficult at the beginning because we had no-one to compare her with, we didn’t know what she could achieve. Now we just accept Karen for who she is,” he said in an interview in 2006.

Donald said society had to allow people, even with significant disabilities, the right to be heard.

“A number of people with intellectual disabilities rely on other people to meet their basic daily needs. I believe that it is important for this vulnerable group of individuals to be heard, especially when they cannot speak up for themselves, join committees, or self-advocate groups.

“I would encourage parents not to be the limiting factor in their children’s development. I’m a great believer in stretching people’s ability as much as you can. As parents we tend to wrap our child in cotton wool, which then limits the individual’s opportunities. It is important that we look at all options including those that may involve an element of risk.”

Donald was Branch President of IHC for North Otago for 12 years, where he was involved in fundraising and supporting families. The branch committee gave many families with a new diagnosis of intellectual disability vital access to information, camaraderie and support. He remained Branch President until 2001 when the family sold the farm and moved to Wanaka to operate a paint and panel business. 

Donald joined the IHC Board in 1998 and served on its New Zealand Council for 20 years. He was elected President and Board Chair of IHC in 2005.

He stepped down in 2017 and, in 2019, he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his long commitment to IHC.

In 2017 Donald’s significant contribution was recognised with IHC New Zealand Life Membership.

He was also a director of IHC subsidiaries IDEA Services and Accessible Properties, and a trustee of the Donald Beasley Institute, which supports disability research and education. From 2007 until 2017 he was one of two IHC-appointed trustees on the IHC Foundation Charitable Trust.

Donald was always a starter to celebrate hard work and was warm and a lot of fun with a great sense of humour.

He will be deeply missed as a husband to Gaye, father to Nick, Hamish and Karen, grandfather to his four grandchildren and great friend to many of us. Our thoughts are particularly with his family.

Personally, I will miss a great friend who was as generous with his wise counsel as great company – particularly over a drink.

Ralph Jones
IHC Group Chief Executive


Funeral for Donald Thompson

A funeral for Donald will be held in Wanaka at 2pm on Friday, 12 February at the Upper Clutha Rugby Clubrooms, McDougall Street, Wanaka.

The funeral will also be streamed online and you can register and find out how to watch by clicking here.

Or after the funeral here