Friday, 29 July 2016

I Greatly Admired Robert Muldoon

I had a great deal of respect and admiration for Robert Muldoon. Well he was Prime Minister for quite a long time of course, long enough for even me to get used to him. And I needed to get used to him, coming as I did from a political system that was supposed to be the same as that in New Zealand but in practice seemed to differ substantially. In England back in those days even Labour diehards carried more of an air of old fashioned gentility along with them than Robert Muldoon was ever able to muster. I’m thinking in particular of Frank Cousins whom I met on several occasions in the mid nineteen sixties, and an intransigent friend of his whose actual name now escapes me now because he insisted on calling himself `Red Ned’ . Robert Muldoon stood a long way to the side of those two gentlemen and I was just a bit nervous of his ominous reputation – as I say, coming from England where cartoonists simply did not get thrown out of press conferences, it was a bit of a learning curve. Everyone I knew in the seventies and eighties loathed and detested Robert Muldoon but that was because they leaned rather more to the Left than I had ever done. One thing was certain, he was not a man who was ever going to be universally adored. Luckily, being a simple wife and mother at that stage in my life, I was able to stay under his radar for the most part – until the matter of the Missing Opening Speaker at the Gifted Education Conference reared its ugly head. I was on the organizing committee and when somebody suggested we invite a highly gifted young politician called Simon Upton along to open the event we gave each other hearty pats on the back. Young Upton had distinguished himself by gaining degrees in English Literature, Music and Law. He was also a Rhodes Scholar and as such an infinitely suitable person to open a conference dealing with educational opportunities for the intellectually gifted. We congratulated ourselves for days on this most excellent choice. Two hundred parents and teachers rapidly confirmed their attendance. So when a woman announcing herself as Simon’s secretary rang at 5pm the night before Day One to convey the message that unfortunately due to circumstances beyond his control Mr. Upton would no longer be able to make the event, as you can imagine it caused a great deal of consternation. For some reason I was elected to solve the problem, to rapidly find a new opening speaker. At the time Robert Muldoon was my local electorate MP because I lived in Tamaki. `You should ring him and ask for advice,’ advised the Chairwoman of the Organising Committee and when I tentatively suggested she might like to do so herself she said that was impossible as she lived in Titirangi – No, it had to be me. To my great surprise his telephone number was listed in the directory (remember them?) and I dialed (yes, this was back in the long forgotten dialing days) the number with foreboding in my heart and prickling in my arm pits. He answered the phone himself, so instantly I was for a second or two struck silent. He listened patiently as I outlined my problem and then was silent for a moment or two himself before saying, `Well you know, Mrs. Harris, Young Upton is a fairly inexperienced young fellow – he hasn’t learned yet some of the guiding principles that go along with being in politics – things like not letting folk down…doing what you say you’re going to do...I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll have a word with him and if he finds he still can’t turn up tomorrow, I’ll come along and open the event myself. Now how would that be?’ I was delirious with gratitude and if he had been physically nearby I would have kissed the hem of his garment. He said he would ring me back in precisely thirty minutes. And when thirty minutes had passed he did exactly that. He said in his slow, gravelly voice, `I think you’ll find Young Upton will be there tomorrow Mrs. Harris. I’ve had a bit of a chat with him and he’s decided to come along after all.` And he was of course quite correct. The next morning young Mr. Upton was there bright and early and gave a very well received opening address. From that day forward I found myself greatly admiring Robert Muldoon

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