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Medal for decades of service

PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Jade Davies
[email protected]

Phyllis French, from Masterton, received the Royal Agricultural Society of NZ Gold Medal for Excellence in Agriculture. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

A Masterton woman, who has been involved with the Agriculture & Pastoral [A&P] community since before starting primary school, has received one of the highest honours from the Royal Agricultural Society of New Zealand.

Last month, Phyllis French was presented with the society’s Gold Meal for Excellence in Agriculture – recognising her 40 years of commitment to the Masterton A&P Show’s sheep section.

The 91-year-old is best known for her black and coloured sheep, which she has been breeding since the late 1970s, but her contribution to the Masterton A&P Show goes back even further, with her near-perfect attendance at the show since the age of four.

Phyllis said she was invited to a morning tea with the Masterton A&P Association committee and, unsure of what the meeting was for, said her goodbyes to family who were staying with her at the time.

Little did she know, she would see her family there – to watch her receive her medal.

“They all knew about it.”

“She has made a huge contribution to this community,” Tina Nixon, president of the Masterton A&P Association, said.

After 87 years of unbroken service, she is “very well respected”.

Over the years, Phyllis had been involved in A&P shows all over the country including Levin, Manawatu, Feilding, Hawke’s Bay and Dannevirke.

Despite the early starts at 4 or 5am, long days, and even longer journeys home again, Phyllis loved talking to like-minded people and sharing experiences.

“I have been rewarded for 40 years of fabulous fun and enjoyment.”

She said she had always been interested in black and coloured sheep – but when they appeared in NZ in 1976, they were not as accepted as they are now.

“Black sheep were taboo back in those days,” Phyllis said. “Man could do more with the wool from 1000 white sheep.”

“In 1978 the Royal Agriculture Society decided to permit black and coloured classes in the sheep show.”

Phyllis spent 82 years in Tinui, learning as much as she could about sheep genetics and “digging up rare genes” before moving to Masterton.

“My coloured sheep became pretty well-known out there,” she said.

“I’ve got sheepskins from all around the world. I brought the world to me with my open garden and sheep products.”

Her daughter, Linley Coffey, is also interested in sheep genes and has “taken over” the hobby in Manawatu.

“It is a wonderful hobby to have. You need to be your own marketer and find your own market.”

In 2020, Phyllis was named Patron of the Show by the Masterton A&P Association – the first New Zealand woman to be awarded the title by an A&P society.

When asked if she would be at the next A&P show, Phyllis said, “my scooter wouldn’t get me there but, if someone could take me, I wouldn’t miss a show ever.”

The 2022 A&P Show was cancelled due to covid-19, and it is unlikely there will be another big show next year.

However, the Masterton A&P Association is looking to put on a series of smaller shows throughout the year.

 

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