Home Industries president Joy Sutherland, left with Patron of the Show Phyllis French, and Masterton A&P Show president Peter McWilliam. PHOTO/DI OAKLY

‘She is so humble and a great ambassador’

Lisa Urbani

If there is a medal for record turnout to the Masterton A&P Show, Masterton woman, Phyllis French has earned it during her unbroken 80-year attendance.

The 89-year old is most likely to be found near the sheep pens this weekend, admiring her beloved coloured sheep, and explaining rural matters to those who gather round to learn from New Zealand’s first woman “Patron of the Show”.

Recently awarded her special badge, this great honour was bestowed on Phyllis for her 80 years of service to the show.

It is an honorary title and confers on her the responsibility of being an ambassador for the show, and putting her experience in tourism promotion to good use.

Starting as a nine-year-old schoolgirl when her class entered the Home Industry, writing category, and later in the Pony section, or doing ringwork and showjumping on her horse “Ace High”, she never missed the show.

Once married, she encouraged her daughter’s riding participation and she entered the Handcraft section with knitting and embroidery offerings.

Her great interest as a Tinui farmer’s wife was in learning about, and then breeding, black and coloured sheep.

She said in 1978 women were not even allowed in the sheep pens.

Undaunted, Phyllis learned as much as she could about sheep genetics from knowledgeable friends in the field, and through her own practical experience.

Later her skills were sought-after as a judge of sheep at the show.

Over the past 40 years she has been a supporter of the spinning and weaving section.

“I bred the sheep, grew the wool, spun the wool, knitted the jersey, and there is nothing more fulfilling.”

This love of all things to do with spinning and weaving led her to the Masterton Woolshed, her “second home”.

Here, she and other volunteers demonstrate spinning and knitting and entertain the tourists – “putting life into the museum” as she likes to think of it.

This indomitable woman was still living rurally on her 30-acre block at Tinui, dagging sheep, until, seven years ago, at the age of 82, when she reluctantly moved into town.

As the president of the A&P Show, Peter McWilliam has known Phyllis for many years, and said she is very deserving of this honour.

“We wanted to show our appreciation for her lifetime contribution,” he said.

“She is so humble and a great ambassador for the A&P Association, with a way with people and words.

“Look for her in the Home Industries, she’ll be there with bells and whistles on.”

The Masterton A&P show kicks off Friday, February 14, and runs over the weekend.

Public entry is free.

In addition to equestrian events there will be cooking, floral, fruit and veggie sections as well as crafts, photography, and the Lions Book Sale.

The inter-schools teen agri competition will be held on Saturday, and Home Industry will be on Sunday.