Editorial: Honoured and abashed
An elderly lady, circa 1993, entered The Southland Times reporters' room, gave a small squeak and nearly dropped her handbag in shock.
She'd turned a corner to be presented with the imposing figure of former deputy prime minister Sir Brian Talboys, all 1.93 metres (6ft 4in) of him, stretching out a long arm and presenting two impolite fingers.
Not to her, we hasten to add, but to our public opinion editor. With that flourish the great man strode off, bidding her a cheerful hello as he passed.
The incident reveals less about Sir Brian than about journalists' capacity to be annoying. He had dropped in a thoughtful wee article and by way of parting comment had suggested we needn't worry about the "Sir" in his byline.
Whereupon the journo called out asking him what was the point of accepting the knighthood in the first place. Hence the salute, by way of reply.
He probably won't be the last knight to have done so. One of the most agreeable aspects of the Queen's Birthday knighthood to Richard "Hannibal" Hayes is that, quite apart from being richly deserved, it raises in him something the wider community has long come to enjoy from the newly knighted - that weird combination of gratitude and mortification.
In common with so many others, Sir Brian seemed to treat the title itself as something to fold way neatly until such time as it may be needed; which it certainly isn't when speaking to his own people.
The fact is, in the largely egalitarian circles in which even our most honoured citizens move, the title "Sir" or "Dame" is far more likely to be used to tease than to kowtow.
The fact remains it does mean something. Something worthwhile. To decline a knighthood is, in equal parts, anyone's right and a tad impolite. For some, the thought is just too awkward.
But really anyone who regards it as harking to the pomposity of the past just hasn't been paying attention to several generations' worth of recent recipients.
Richard Hayes was a classic candidate for a knighthood, through the sheer quantity of good he has done through decades of expert search and rescue flying in Fiordland.
As he is quick to point out, he is part of a team. They all share in the reflected kudos, whereas the abashed feeling is the recipient's alone. Consider it taking one for the team.
The Southland Times