The Hon. Sir George Fowlds KBE

Born in Fenwick, Ayrshire, Scotland on 23 September, 1860, , the son of a hand weaver, George Fowlds grew up in a home where Socialism and Liberalism were regularly discussed. On leaving school aged 12 he was apprenticed to a tailor and emigrated to South Africa in 1882 where he married Mary Anne Fulton and the couple raised a fmily of three sons and three daughters. Emigrating to New Zealand in 1885, he settled in Auckland and opened a menswear shop on Queen Street.

After a long period in community and local government activities, Fowlds entered parliament in 1899 and became Minister of Public Health and Education in the Ward government, but resigned his cabinet post in 1911, continuing as an ordinary member.

In 1916 he succeeded the redoubtable Sir Maurice O’Rorke as president of the University College of Auckland, a position he retained until his death in 1934. He was also a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand. Instrumental in forming the Massey Agricultural College in Palmerston North, he became a member of the college Council from 1927 until 1934.

In 1920, on a visit to the United States, Fowlds attended a Rotary meeting, and impressed, he wrote to Chesley Perry seeking information. On his return to Auckland, he spoke to a number of prominent businessmen and on 4 April,1921 arranged a luncheon meeting at the Pacific club, which was addressed by a Mr Jones a member of the Victoria Rotary club in British Columbia, Canada , This meeting decided to form a Rotary club in Auckland. Fowlds reported this to Chicago about the time that two Special Commissioners, Canadians Lt Col. J Layton Ralston and Jim Davidson were to form the Rotary clubs of Melbourne and Sydney in Australia. After forming the Melbourne club Raslston sailed for Wellington where another club was proposed and one week later, Davidson sailed for Auckland, arriving on 30 May Davidson held two small meetings the day after his arrival and invitations were sent to a selected few businessmen to a luncheon at the Pacific club on 2 June. The inaugural meeting of the Auckland club took place at Prior’s restaurant, in the Strand Arcade, Queen Street on 13 June and Fowlds was elected president when Davidson presented the club with Charter #915.

In September, 1922, Fowlds received a letter from General Secretary Ches Perry which said:

“At the recent meeting of the International Board, consideration was given to the fact that there are now three Rotary clubs in New Zealand with prospects for additional clubs, thus creating a situation which seems to require some provision for supervision and administration of the existing clubs and direction of the extension work.

The Board feels that it would be best not to consider the establishment of a Rotary District in New Zealand until there are at least five growing clubs. At that time, and thereafter the administration of the New Zealand clubs will be through a District Governor of Rotary.

Meanwhile, the Board has directed me to advise you of your appointment as Special Commissioner for New Zealand.

In that capacity it will be your duty to represent the International Board such as a District Governor does in an established District. Undeer the general supervision of the Board of Directors you are charged with the particular duty of furthering the objects of Rotary International, of supervising the organising of new clubs and of promoting cordial relations between several member clubs in New Zealand and between said clubs and Rotary International.”

Fowlds began his Extension activities as Special Commissioner with the formation of a club in Christchurch on 22 May, 1922. Then followed Dunedin on 24 January, 1923. Hamilton, on 12 December, 1923 and in 1924, Invercargill, 25 February; Wanganui, 3 March; Napier, 5 April ; Hastings, 7 April ; Palmerston North, 29 May.. In 1925,five more clubs were formed; ; Hawera, January 30; New Plymouth, February10; Oamaru, April 1; Whangarei, June 4 and Masterton, December 3.

In four years, the energetic Fowlds had established fourteen clubs throughout the two main islands of New Zealand, no mean feat considering that they were in addition to his normal business activities as a university administrator, in addition to his community interests and that travel was restricted to rail, motor transport over poor roads and steamship.

What better accolade for The Honourable Sir George Fowlds KBE can there be than from the members of his own Auckland club on the event of the club’s jubilee:

Sir George’s great enthusiasm, his flair for organisation. his belief in those ideals for which Rotary stands and the place he held in the hearts of men from one end of the Dominion to the other – all these fine attributes meant so much to Rotary in New Zealand during its early and critical days. To him Rotary was not a religion or a creed but a style of life to be lived. He saw in it a something that would make it easy for many who had found it hard to give service without personal gain, financial or otherwise. We who knew him in Rotary remember him as a beloved friend.

Footnote: To clarify the term “university colleges”: A University of New Zealand was formed in 1870 but had no buildings or teaching staff. University Colleges of the University of New Zealand were formed in Auckland, Wellington (Victoria U C) Christchurch (Canterbury U C) Dunedin (Otago U C). With the passage of the Universities Act 1961, the University of New Zealand ceased to exist. All university colleges and Massey Agricultural College then became universities in their own right.

researched by RGHF Board member, Norm Winterbottom, New Zealand. October 2008