Remembering John Holdsworth

John Holdsworth ONZM never said much about what he did for people, but he was hugely influential in improving the quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities over decades of service.

John Holdsworth died on Saturday 15 August in his garden on the family’s farm in central Hawkes Bay. 

IHC Group Chair Tony Shaw and IHC Group Chief Executive Ralph Jones jointly pay tribute to him for the major role he played in changing how IHC handled its finances and its properties, and in shaping the organisation as it is today.

In the early 1990s John, Chair of IT services company Datacom, was brought in as Chair of IHC’s Finance and Audit Committee and made a significant impact.   

As Chair of the Properties Advisory Board he helped to reconsider the way IHC managed its properties. The change of focus resulted in a major improvement in the quality of houses throughout New Zealand. 

John served on the IHC Executive Committee from 1995, then as a member of the IHC Board of Governance when it was set up in 1998 and for the following eight years. He served as New Zealand Vice President from 1995 until 2002. In 2007 he was awarded New Zealand Life Membership of IHC.

Although a private man, he received a very public acknowledgement in 2011 when he was recognised in the New Year honours as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to business and the community. 

“He really was an amazing influence,” says Jan Dowland, who was IHC Chief Executive from 1997 to 2001. “He was really instrumental in a much more focused approach to managing all our various systems of revenue.

“He was quite a tough taskmaster and insisted that we operate our services within the revenue available. He set ambitious targets,” she says. “While he was tough, he was realistic and supportive. He didn’t just care about the money, he cared about the services as well.”

Jan says he saw very clearly that IHC properties were a significant asset. “He believed because of the scale of the business it needed to be professionally managed.

“I think he probably contemplated way back then where we were going. He was very clear about what needed to happen. He was persistent, but he didn’t think it needed to happen overnight. The organisation has been really, really lucky to have someone of his experience, his calibre and ability to be an advisor.”

She says she has very fond memories of him as someone who enjoyed all the social activities and other events associated with IHC. “He loved being with us and we always enjoyed his company.”

John was also involved with the organisation at a grass-roots level, joining the Wellington branch committee, which he chaired from 1994–99.

His involvement with IHC has also been shared and encouraged by his wife Merrill and they have sponsored the IHC Art Awards since 2014. They have been involved in intellectual disability for many years through Special Olympics New Zealand, and through their son Michael who has an intellectual disability.

John was behind the first IHC Computer Assisted Learning Centre in 2002. Through the Holdsworth Charitable Trust he funded the computer equipment for the centres at Park Road and the Christie Centre in the Wellington area.

The family has also provided a lot of support to the IHC Library through the Trust, including a major project to upgrade videos to DVD, and to purchase library resources and publicise the library’s services.

John became Chair of Datacom in 1988 and was the majority shareholder. He was responsible for establishing the company’s community and social responsibility programme with the company contributing to many organisations in the region. He stepped down from the Board in 2013.

Our thoughts are with his family, including Michael who has worked for IHC in the Library for 26 years. 

Photo caption: (from left) John Holdsworth, with former IHC Chief Executive JB Munro and Merrill Holdsworth in 2015.