March 9, 2021

Guest editorial 

I wish to pay tribute to our former IHC President, Chair and IHC New Zealand Life Member Donald Thompson, ONZM, who died early in February.

It was a great shock to lose Donald so suddenly. He made an enormous contribution to IHC and the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

But most of all he was a husband, an incredible father and a friend to many of us.

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. “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. “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.”

Donald was Branch President of IHC for North Otago for 12 years. The branch committee gave many families with a new diagnosis of intellectual disability vital access to camaraderie and support. He remained Branch President until 2001 when the family sold the farm and moved to Wanaka.

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

He stepped down in 2017 and significant contribution was recognised with IHC New Zealand Life Membership. In 2019, he was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in recognition of his long commitment to IHC.

He was a director of IHC subsidiaries IDEA Services and Accessible Properties, and a trustee of the Donald Beasley Institute, a disability research organisation. From 2007 until 2017 he was a trustee on the IHC Foundation Charitable Trust.

Donald 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.

I will miss a great friend who was as generous with his wise counsel as great company.

Ralph Jones
IHC Group Chief Executive

Caption: IHC Board Chair Donald Thompson (left) with IHC Chief Executive Ralph Jones at the Annual General Meeting in 2015.