Barron's influence covers full spectrum

DON WRIGHT
Last updated 05:00 28/01/2014
Ron Barron
JOHN HAWKINS/Fairfax NZ
Legend of Sport Ron Barron holds a photo of racehorse Incredible Fella.

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Ron Barron's name is synonymous with Southland harness racing but there is much more to his sporting, community and business background than that.

While his extensive racing distinctions would stand alone as ample basis for his Legend of Sport billing, his recreational repertoire also includes bowls and rugby and he is acknowledged in his Makarewa district as an original driving force behind the popular Makarewa Country Club.

Sometimes the reality of a person's past contributions are only unveiled in the passage of time. A former plant manager of the Makarewa freezing works, Ron is no exception.

For example, he is only now appreciating the significance of once coaching the Makarewa Primary School rugby team that later produced a distinguished All Black flanker, a Southland Centurion middle row forward and a prominent Southland representative loose forward and successful Stags coach.

The Centurion in question was Brent (Pup) Shepherd who played 105 games from 1987-1997 and the All Black flanker referred to is Paul Henderson (90 games for Southland) whose twin brother David played 75 games for the province and co-coached Southland to twice lift the Ranfurly Shield from Canterbury.

Between them, they played 270 games for Southland and were hard and uncompromising grafters who never stepped back from rivals.

"I am quietly proud of what those three schoolboys eventually achieved in rugby."

The Makarewa identity filled every office of the local bowling club, serving two years as president after being a Southland representative player for eight years. He was a member of the Southland Bowling Centre for six years, his final two as president.

If Ron is proud of three schoolboy rugby protege, he and his wife, Christabel, are similarly proud of their sons Clark, Ken and Tony who have all made it in the competitive harness racing domain.

Ken became a member of the coveted list of drivers who have gained 1000 wins or more in New Zealand, achieving the milestone at Forbury Park on April 11 last year.

Clark is only 32 wins short of attaining the same exalted status. Tony was Southland's leading trainer four times. Clark won eight provincial drivers' premierships.

Their parents persuaded them to get a trade behind them to fall back on before they ventured into the more precarious harness racing industry. Clark completed his apprenticeship as a builder, Ken as a mechanic and Tony as a panel beater.

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A licence holder for 42 years (1970-2012), Ron's harness racing career has embraced respectable success as a trainer, highlighted by the achievements of 1997 Southland Horse of the Year Incredible Fella, Wyndham Cup winner Michael's Medley and fine trotter Makarewa Sun.

A steward, committeeman and president over 25 years of the Invercargill club, he was also acknowledged for his six-year contribution as an executive member of the New Zealand Trotting Conference.

His term as Invercargill president featured the hosting of the last annual conference of New Zealand club delegates held in Invercargill. It has since been a permanent Christchurch fixture. His most challenging task as a committeeman was liaison officer for the World Drivers' Championship leg staged at Ascot Park.

A Southland OTB committeeman for eight years, he was the first secretary of the Otago-Southland Trainers' and Drivers' Association that successfully pushed for national speaking and voting rights of the three kindred bodies. Representation on the trotting conference executive climaxed those efforts.

Barron and fellow New Zealand trotting conference executive members in the late 1980s proudly viewed advancements, including the introduction of the push out rule and passing lane, also the abandoning of the 28-day duration of a gear change notification by trainers.

Improving stakes to counter increasing costs was a major challenge ahead of administrators, he said.

"A couple of wins would have carried a horse through a whole season when I started training but four wins would generally be required to achieve that nowadays."

Clubs that hoarded money for a wet day should now release some of those funds to retain owners and attract others in the industry's best interests, he said.

The Invercargill club should promote its popular provincial drivers' championships day by luring licence holders to nominate more freely with stake increases for five stipulated races beforehand.

"It would be tragic if the Invercargill club lost the championships after 21 years, but it could happen unless it is better planned and funded."

Barron's 36 years at the Makarewa works, the first 34 under Southland Frozen Meat, was climaxed by two final years as plant manager for new owners Fletcher Challenge. He retired in 1988.

"The works killed 2.63 million sheep and lambs in 1987 and boned and cut a million of them, the remainder being in whole carcass form," he recalled.

"The Makarewa and Mataura plants made a substantial profit on through put. We had 1500 employees at Makarewa who worked in well with management to produce that excellent result."

Ron Barron's reputation as a valued voluntary Makarewa citizen was also forged by eight years on the school committee, mainly as secretary, nine years with the Lorneville-Makarewa Citizens' Association and a similar period serving the Makarewa Sports Association as secretary.

He was one of six to succeed in calling a public meeting to establish the Makarewa Country Club and was a trustee for 25 years.

- The Southland Times

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