Kirwan now a knight in latest batch of royal honours

Last updated 14:52 06/06/2012
john kirwan
KNIGHT: John Kirwan says he is both humbled and honoured to receive the honour.

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Humbled and honoured. They're two words John Kirwan often uses to describe how he feels about his contribution to the campaign to raise awareness about depression, but they're also the same words he is using to describe his knighthood.

The former All Black and 1987 Rugby World Cup winner has become a "sir" in the Queen's Birthday honours released today.

Along with Sir John, new Knights Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (KNZM) are former finance minister and deputy prime minister Sir Michael Cullen, businessman Sir Roderick Deane, and Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet chief executive Sir Maarten Wevers.

New Dames Companion (DNZM) are former Maori Women's Welfare League president Dame June Mariu, fashion industry leader Dame Pieter Stewart, and Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem.

Kirwan has been recognised as much, if not more, for his contribution outside of rugby; for services to mental health, having been for several years at the forefront of the campaign to heighten public awareness of depression, an illness he has suffered from himself.

Kirwan, these days an international rugby coach, was told about the knighthood a week ago and after getting over the initial shock, he had no doubt it was his contribution to mental health that played the biggest part in it.

"I'm sure it's a combination but the mental health side of it outweighs the rugby," Kirwan said from Cardiff as he was preparing the Barbarians to play Wales in an international.

"I'm certainly proud of the rugby stuff I've achieved but the work that I'm continuing to do with mental health is a very strong part of my life."

Kirwan admitted to intially being "dumbfounded" when he was told of the Queen's Birthday honour, which came "completely out of the blue", but he believed it would aid his continued work and bring hope to those people who might not be able to see any.

"I didn't really know what to say . . . I was short for words, which is unusual for me, and I had to take 24 hours to take a breath and let it sink in. But I still don't know what to think.

"I'm just humbled and honoured.

"I never imagined this, but when I sat down and thought about it a bit longer, it's a great thing for the people who are suffering from mental illness in New Zealand and I think it gives them hope.

"That's the big positive for me; if receiving this helps other people then I can get over the embarrassment."

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Kirwan was a prolific wing who played 63 tests for New Zealand between 1984-94 and scored 35 tries. He also scored a New Zealand record 199 first-class tries, dabbled in rugby league and then embarked on a coaching career that has seen him lead the national teams of Italy and most recently Japan. He is the frontrunner to be the next coach of the Blues.

He has fronted advertising campaigns and written extensively about depression, and was made an Officer of The New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) in 2007 for his efforts in mental health. "It's been an incredible journey, really," he said.

And how will the title "Sir" sit with him? "Most people just know me by my initials, so I hope that will just carry on."

Sir JK, perhaps.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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