Grant Harding was first introduced to Wendy Morrison at the Wairarapa Business Awards. He has come across her a couple of times since. Initially observing from afar, it was clear she had a big personality. But on the one occasion he sat down to talk with her, at a meeting at Masterton establishment, Lone Star, he was impressed by her professionalism. While she works in radio, as general manager of Mediaworks, and he works for the Times-Age, she will soon be doing an important job for him. Grant decided that it was time to re-establish her credentials with The Interview.
If sport is a metaphor for life, Wendy Morrison’s hockey career gives a powerful glimpse into her personality.
“I said I’d play until I was 50 and I played until I was 51,” she says.
The former representative player went back last year but retired officially when she realised that she no longer had the desire to face the cold southerlies bringing horizontal hail across the Clareville turf directly into her face.
“Integrity”, “commitment” and “passion” are key words in Wendy’s lexicon, guide her actions, would have driven her throughout her long sporting career and ultimately guided her decision to let go.
If you commit you’ve got to do it, not just see it through, but see it through with passion, she says.
Not that the self-confessed active-relaxer, whose day job is general manager of Mediaworks – think More FM – has had any problem filling in her weekends since.
A high-flying corporate position would be enough to have most retreating to the family and the garden for the weekend, but Wendy, who cherishes both those roles, has a second job.
She’s a marriage celebrant.
In the summer just finished she married 16 couples, a staggering number.
“I’m my own worst enemy. Someone told me years ago that I should probably sit on my hands and I probably forget that occasionally. I don’t like saying ‘no’ because if I’ve got the capacity and I’m capable of doing it, I’ll always do it.
“I don’t say ‘no’ but I do need to make sure I give 100 per cent to that couple.”
Originally her interest was in MC work, having been inspired by the late Craig Cooper, who was an early mentor. She rates having a mentor.
But the road diverged, and she took another path.
For Wendy “the glass is always half-full”, so she doesn’t use words like “frustrated” or “unfortunately” when she says, “MC work is male dominated”. Instead, at the suggestion of friends, she explored another “opportunity”.
“I enjoy people, I enjoy being involved in events, being present. [Being a marriage celebrant] had that MC component to it, but it was a lot more personal and more of a privilege. So, I went through the process.
“I absolutely love it. It’s my passion. You become involved with people you wouldn’t normally meet.”
Wendy says all the weddings she has done have “truly reflected the couple” – from elopements where it’s the couple, two witnesses and herself, to the high-end celebrations.
“The moment you pronounce that a couple are married – something they’ve been waiting months if not years for – and they kiss each other, to be right there is absolutely wonderful, an absolute privilege.
“I’m a believer in commitment. Marriage has gone full circle. In my day lots of people married very young, and now it’s shifted out. I marry a lot of couples that have children already.
“I’m not going to delve into the religious side of things because that’s people’s beliefs and opinions.
“Mine is around commitment. Commitment to each other, and often now it’s a commitment to family, to being together.”
Wendy started life in the far north town of Dargaville, the first-born of Roger and Mary Smith whose roots were in Tararua. By the time she was two years old, and the first of her three younger brothers had been born, the farming family were back in Dannevirke where she started school, before they moved to Eketahuna.
Eketahuna Primary and Tararua College were her alumna, and it was from the latter, aged 17, that she embarked on a life-changing experience – an AFS exchange scholarship to Germany for a year, living with a family featuring two ‘sisters’. She lived in a small village just out of Gottingen [known for its university founded in 1734], south of Hanover.
“That’s when I realised how small my world was and how small my vision on life was. At that time Germany was still West and East.
“I went from a very small college to a very big college where smoking was allowed, it just wasn’t allowed within the buildings. There were no uniforms. It was a whole different structure.
“I travelled Europe as a 17-year-old – seeing the world showed me that I’d come from a small country but a safe country. It was a pretty insightful 12 months.”
It got rid of any small rural town “naievety”, gave her an ability to speak and read German – she went with three words [guten Morgen/good morning; Schönen Tag/good day] – and a life-long connection with her host family – the ‘mother’, soon to turn 90, and one ‘sister’ having visited as recently as February. Wendy is good at connection – all her children have at some time connected with her German family.
Arriving back in New Zealand, she changed course, spurning the opportunity to go to Teacher’s College – “it wasn’t what I wanted to do”.
“[Germany] gave me an insight into what else is out there. It gave me an insight into me, because suddenly you’re on the other side of the world, can’t speak the language, living with a new family and you’re on your own.
“Whilst I was always and am quite a strong, determined, independent person, it really opened me up.
“I was fortunate when I got home to get the support of my parents who had brought us up to travel, to explore, to follow what we wanted to do as long as it was good and for good.”
After earning her fare, she returned to Europe, travelling for another two years.
Upon arrival home she started a career in banking, first in Pahiatua. She married aged 21, moved to Mount Maunganui, had two children [Renee is now 29, William 27], then came back to Tararua where she went back into banking.
It has made up the bulk of her working life – “many amazing roles” over 23 years at three banks.
She was a young branch manager in Dannevirke which suited her ambition for “leadership”, and rose to a position of leading branch managers, while doing everything in between – “I’d hate to think how many roles – it’s been fantastic”.
Along the way her first marriage ended when she was 28.
“You make these decisions in life and right at the time you make them for a reason. People often say, ‘do you regret getting married so young’ and I say ‘no’. What I have is two wonderful children and what I have is life experience.”
Within two years she had met and married Doug Morrison. With Doug, who manages a farm on the way to Castlepoint, she has brought up a “wonderful blended family” of five – he has a daughter, Cara, and two sons, Ben and Byron – and there are now “two gorgeous grandsons”.
“I am very fortunate to have an amazing, supportive husband. Doug’s been right there through all the changes we’ve had, all the shifts we’ve had. He’s backed me 100 per cent. I’m extremely lucky.”
There is, however, one matter that frustrates Doug. Wendy never sits down, even when she’s at their Gladstone home.
“I love gardening,” Wendy says. “I’ve got a big garden. I love building gardens and landscaping. I can look at something as a blank canvas and say, ‘this is how I want it’. I can see it. My mum’s very good at it as well. So that’s my down time.
“It annoys my husband, frustrates him that I don’t sit down, but I’m an active relaxer. I enjoy doing things.”
Wendy stepped out of banking early this century to take up the position of Times-Age general manager, when it was under APN’s control. She was eventually made redundant. But a seed was planted. She could live and work in Wairarapa, instead of constantly commuting to Wellington and Auckland.
Almost immediately she returned to banking, overseeing the merger of ANZ’s Queen St and Lincoln Rd [still existing] branches in Masterton.
“Opportunities to continue and grow and develop and stay here are limited,” she says, but then along came the Mediaworks general manager position at the end of 2016.
In a fractured media-market she says radio is still holding its own.
“It’s an opportunity to engage. People are wanting engagement. People are looking to radio for entertainment, for advice, for connection. It’s instant, live. We get involved locally in our communities.”
And the Michael Jackson question – “no comment – not going there” accompanied with a hearty laugh.
She’s a smart operator – admits that she reflects on everything [will even reflect on this interview] as a method of self-improvement, and that preparation is a major part of her professional armoury – “I want to make sure I do it right, do it well, and do it justice”.
But it’s her gregarious personality and drive that shine through.
She’s an admirer of ex-First Lady of the White House Michelle Obama – “She could have easily faded behind but she held her own”.
She understands leadership – “You lead people, you manage process”.
As well as hockey [she’s a life member of the Tumu Ladies], she played basketball at representative level, was a middle-distance runner at national school level and is a handy tennis player – “Sport’s been a massive part of my life, it still is to enjoy. I loved the camaraderie of a team.”
And she lives by a simple mantra – “cherish yesterday, live today, dream tomorrow”.
“Cherish everything that’s been thrown your way because you don’t get it back.
“Live today because there may not be a tomorrow – and that’s not in a bad way, it’s just about enjoying life – live it, enjoy it, see it, feel it.”
When it comes to Wairarapa, Wendy is passionate.
“What I love about Wairarapa is sincerely, the people. I have shifted around a lot and Wairarapa has always embraced me when I’ve come back.
“There’s always a community – sporting community, arts community, work community, fundraising community [she is active in several activities including the Wellington Free Ambulance Old School Ball coming up in August] – whatever your passion is.
“Then there are mountains 20 minutes one way, and beach 40 minutes the other [the family have a property at Castlepoint] and so much to do in-between.”
Corporate and marriage celebrant work, family, friends, gardening, fundraising – it’s a busy life, just as she likes it.
“Germany was life changing, primarily because it took me out of my comfort zone. But it didn’t change me.
“I am a farm girl through and through. That gave me a solid foundation. My parents have strong family values. But they also gave us freedom – to get on a horse and shoot down the river with a couple of mates to spend a night in a tent.
“We had the freedom to be able to go, to explore, to be who we wanted to be.
“I just live my life. My life has gone exactly where I would love it to go.
“I don’t regret anything. I always look back and take the positives out of everything.
“Every day I get out of bed to add value or in some way make a difference.”
So, Wendy, two questions to finish.
What advice would you give a couple planning a wedding?
“Make it yours, make it truly yours. Yes, there are family, other people to surround you, but truly make it yours.”
What are you doing on February 8 next year?
“I think I’ve got a commitment. I think I’m in Martinborough that day actually, and I’ve got an amazing opportunity to marry two people – one I know very well, and one I’m getting to know, who’s put me on the spot today.”
In 44 weeks, you get your chance to do the same, Wendy, and I’m certain you’ll be prepared.