Sir Wilson Whineray dies, age 77

11:35, Oct 22 2012
Sir Wilson Whineray
PROUD: Sir Wilson Whineray was a proud rugby player, pictured here with the Rugby World Cup in 2009.

Sir Wilson Whineray, a New Zealand rugby great and business leader, has died in hospital at the age of 77.

Prime Minister John Key said Sir Wilson may have been the greatest captain the country ever had.

“It is fitting that the only biography of Sir Wilson was titled A Perfect Gentleman. He was the rare breed of man whose modesty and humility gave no hint of the greatness he had achieved.

“I knew Sir Wilson and respected him immensely. This is a loss all of New Zealand will feel.”

Sir Wilson played 77 matches for the All Blacks, including 32 tests, of which he was captain for 30.

His debut was against Australia in May 1957, when he was 21.

In 1965, the year he retired from international rugby, he was named New Zealand Sportsman of the Year.

In 2003 he was named Patron of the New Zealand Rugby Union. Four years later became just the fourth person to be inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.

Following the end of his international playing career, Sir Wilson won a Harkness Scholarship to Harvard University where he studied for an MBA in 1967 and 1968.

He went on to head Carter Holt Harvey and held positions at APN, the NZ Wool Marketing Corporation, National Bank and Auckland International Airport

He was knighted in 1998 for services to sport and business management.

In the early 1990s he was appointed the Colonel-Commandant of the New Zealand SAS Regiment - a position he held for five years.

Sir Wilson is survived by his wife Lady Elisabeth, a son, two daughters and five grandchildren.

In a statement today, his family thanked the staff at Auckland Hospital's critical care unit for their outstanding professionalism and care of duty while looking after their husband and father.

"Our father led a rich life filled to the brim with family, sport, business and the community.  While he leaves a very big gap in our lives, we are blessed with many wonderful memories of him.

"We will always remember his energy and passion for everything he did and we remember one of his favourite comments was that he didn't regret a single day in his life."

New Zealand Rugby Union chairman Mike Eagle said today was a sad day.

"We have lost one of New Zealand's great heroes and for the rugby community we have lost a much-loved patron and champion of rugby," he said.

"We extend our condolences to Lady Elisabeth and to their family as they remember a much-loved husband, a father and a grandfather."

Former All Black Grant Fox said Sir Wilson was a gentleman who always had an important messages to share.
“Not only was he a great rugby player but a great contributor to society. He had a remarkable career through many threads of New Zealand society.
He remembered Sir Wilson captivating audiences whenever he was called on to speak.  
“You could hear a pin drop with the message he was delivering.”

Sir Wilson was always the gentleman and there was never a bad word spoken about him, he said.

Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin said New Zealand had lost a sporting and business legend.

“Sir Wilson embodied all of those virtues that we try to teach our children today, such as passion, determination and loyalty – whether it was on the sporting field or life in general.

"He strove for excellence, in himself and others, and showed leadership through service in sports, business and the community.”

The author of A Perfect Gentleman, Bob Howitt, said getting the “humble, genuine” rugby legend to share his life story was characteristically difficult.

“I was one of a number of people who tried to get Wilson to do a book. But Wilson being Wilson, he wasn't going to do a book.”

“I played my last card, I said that given what you achieved in rugby and business there deserves to be a book written about you and I am going to write it with or without you. In those circumstances he said ‘we better get on with the bloody thing’.”