Highest honour for 'call me Ron'

Last updated 05:00 02/06/2014
Sir Ron Carter
HONOURED: Sir Ron Carter.

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Former engineer Sir Ron Carter, who has had a hand in building many of New Zealand's most important tangible and intangible assets, has been awarded the country's highest honour and inducted into the Order of New Zealand.

Carter said the honour, becoming one of only 17 members of the Order, was unexpected.

"I would never have dreamed I would be credited in this way," he said.

He joined small engineering firm Beca in 1959 as one of only 10 staff. When he retired as chairman in 2002 it had grown to 1250 staff and been instrumental in building the Tasman Pulp and Paper Mill, the SkyTower and the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point.

But Carter is unwilling to take credit for any of these monuments. "There's very few projects that are the product of an individual. I've had quite a lot of success in building teams of people who will work together co-operatively," he said.

"My test is: Am I able to bring together people and do this job well? It's not about what I can do working 168 hours a week."

Since retiring from Beca, which has continued to grow and has more than doubled in size since his departure, Carter, 78, has served in numerous public roles.

These positions include the Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch earthquakes, chairing the supercity foundation-laying committee for Auckland and instigating the Sir Peter Blake Trust Leadership Awards.

He is particularly proud of the leadership awards, the spark for which was the sudden death of the America's Cup icon.

"When Blake was killed, there was shock and horror around the country," he said. "He portrayed many of the qualities we like to admire."

Carter said his busy post-retirement was not of his own making. "I'm quite proud of the fact that I've never asked to be appointed to anything," he said.

"I guess once you get a few runs on the board, people seek you out."

Living in St Heliers with his wife of 54 years, Lady Lewell Carter, and their spadoodle, Mollie, Carter doesn't have time for the trappings of titles and doesn't include his "Sir" in his White Pages listing.

"I'm Ron, the way I've always been. It's not that I don't respect the title, but I respect that people think I'm worthy of it," he said.

This respect is demonstrated by a reply to a letter written by an eight-year-old girl on gaining his knighthood in 1998.

The letter included a hand-drawn picture of a knight in armour and a hamster - she said she ran out of space for a dragon - begging for a reply from a knight of the realm.

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"Please make it look knightly. I need to show it to my friends. They are not so easily fooled," the letter concluded.

Carter's response, complete with Gothic font and his family coat of arms, bore a flourishing signature.

He still sits on the board of property investor Rural Equities and said he is not yet ready to rest on his laurels.

"I think I've still got something to offer," he said. 

- Stuff

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