By Hayley Gastmeier
Wairarapa is mourning the loss of one of its most-loved and highly respected sporting legends.
Long-time athletics and rugby stalwart Ron Hughes, 85, died on Thursday.
He was made a life member of Athletics Featherston in 2004, after becoming a committee member in 1970 and later serving as president.
Mr Hughes retired from the club earlier this year, after almost half a century of service.
For decades he marked out the track at Card Reserve, as well as visiting South Wairarapa schools to encourage new membership.
He also spent countless hours writing the club newsletters and then there was the fundraising, much of which involved selling raffle tickets at the Empire and Royal hotels on Friday and Saturday nights.
It was nothing for Mr Hughes to get up at 5.30am to ensure the athletics track was ready for action and that all the finishing posts and the equipment needed for field events was in order.
His wife Patsy, nee Cadwallader, also had a heavy involvement with Athletics Featherston, serving for a time as club secretary and treasurer.
The couple were married for 52 years, raising a family of four Ian, Garry, Tracey and Helen.
In June Mr Hughes received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2016 Wairarapa Times-Age Sports Awards.
His close friend Ray Wallis, who has been deeply involved with athletics in Wairarapa for decades, said Mr Hughes put in efforts “way beyond what anyone else would ever do”.
“He used to mark the track, basically by himself, and he’d go down there with his rotary mower mowing the track before he marked it. He’d go around all the schools and drum up support for the club. No matter what it was, he did it, and he never asked anyone for help if it was something he could do himself,” Mr Wallis said.
“He’d organise to take all the kids away on events and more often than not he’d buy their lunches for them as well.
“He was just a fantastic guy.”
Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union president Richard Dahlberg said Mr Hughes was “special” and he would be dearly missed.
A life member of the union and past president, Mr Hughes was also a JAB delegate.
“The JAB of Wairarapa Bush Rugby Union wouldn’t be anywhere near where it is today without Ron’s efforts,” Mr Dahlberg said.
“He was still active, right up until fairly recently.”
Mr Dahlberg credits Mr Hughes for his position as union president.
“He was the guy, when I lost to the election years ago, Ron came and saw me and said ‘never give up, keep on trying to be what you are’.
“You can honestly say he’s just a legend of rugby. You talk about people like Brian Lochore and Lane Penn who made national headlines but Ron was right up there with them as far as I’m concerned.”
Brian Adamson served on the Featherston Rugby Committee with Mr Hughes.
“You can never speak too highly of him,” Mr Adamson said.
“He was so tenacious with everything he did… Nobody did it like Ron.”
He said Mr Hughes’ fundraising efforts for sport was an inspiration and “set a good example to other people”.
“He just never tired of it.”
Mr Adamson said Mr Hughes would be irreplaceable.
“Nobody would ever put the time in that he has done through the years.”
Toots Boswell said her good friend, Mr Hughes, was a man of the “old-school”.
“The generation of these days is so different. He just loved, season by season, to carry on the old-school way. “He was lovely, he really was. It’s going to be hard to believe he’s gone.”
Mrs Boswell commended Mrs Hughes, who had “been an absolute rock”, and recalls a recent conversation with Mr Hughes.
“He said to me ‘Toots, when I go, I need you to go to the store room of the club rooms. I want you to get one of those blue and black flags because I’ll need that when I’m dead’- he wants it on his coffin.”
Mrs Boswell is keeping her promise.
Mr Hughes was for many years the manager of the New Zealand Farmers Co-op Distributor Company in Featherston.
In 2011 he was one of three recipients in Wairarapa to win a Local Heroes Award for his contribution to the community.
He served a term on the South Wairarapa District Council, from 1989 to 1992, and was, until the end, working part-time in real estate.
A service for Mr Hughes will be held at Anzac Hall, Featherston, at 11am on Wednesday.