Waikato stalwart makes every day count

KATRINA TANIRAU
Last updated 08:01 10/12/2013
 Dawson Bruce
Katrina Tanirau/Fairfax NZ
Fighting spirit: At nearly 88 years old, Dawson Bruce is as fit, if not fitter than some men half his age after a life that’s included farming, boxing, golfing and biking.

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Dawson Bruce doesn't like the idea of sitting around watching his life pass him by.

"You have to keep your body moving and active. I'd go crazy if I had to sit around all day," he says.

Born in Gisborne in 1925, Mr Bruce was the youngest of three children.

His grandfather Don Bruce migrated from Scotland to New Zealand and was a trooper for the British forces at the Battle of Rangiriri in 1863.

Dawson Bruce's father, George Bruce was gifted 500 acres (202ha) of land in Wairangi Valley from his father, which he sold before heading to Alaska where he found £10,000 worth of gold at the top of the Bonanza Creek.

His father spent 10 years in Alaska searching for gold. He became disoriented during an expedition to the Arctic Circle and spent 18 months lost in the unforgiving conditions.

"My father was an extraordinary man, it's remarkable that he managed to survive in those conditions for 18 months."

It wasn't until he was discovered by a group of Inuit people that he returned to Dawson City in Alaska and then headed back to New Zealand.

This was how Mr Bruce was given his name - Dawson.

Mr Bruce's parents settled in Gisborne, but it wasn't long before they decided to look at the Bay of Plenty as a possible option to purchase a farm.

Mr Bruce's father and mother had no intention of settling in the Waikato, in fact they avoided the place like the plague.

"My father said anything south of Morrinsville was rubbish," he says.

It was a land agent who convinced Mr Bruce's parents to look at a farm in Walton and on New Year's Day 1938, the Bruce family moved to the small settlement.

Mr Bruce's father suffered heart complications as a result of his time lost in the Arctic Circle so he was limited when it came to working on the farm.

Mr Bruce was 16 when he took over full responsibility of the farm and so began a farming career that spanned more than 60 years.

During that time Mr Bruce was a judge for the New Zealand Jersey Breeders Association which saw him travel around the world.

"I loved working on the farm and living in Walton," he says. "It was a great way of life."

From a young age, Mr Bruce enjoyed playing a range of sports.

At Marist Boys' School in Gisborne, it was compulsory to learn how to box.

"If we didn't turn up for boxing lessons we had to have a doctor's certificate or we got the cane."

It was renowned Gisborne boxer and Australasian middleweight champion Jack Heeney who took Mr Bruce under his wing.

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"He put his hand on my shoulder and said 'Lad if ever you take this sport up you will be very successful'," he said.

"I had a good coach. Boxing is a wonderful sport if it's properly taught."

After badly breaking his leg playing rugby at Bedford Park, Mr Bruce decided to pour all his energy into boxing. He was 17.

"I fought four or five New Zealand champions and I beat them all," he says.

"I was only beaten in the New Zealand championships because I was unbelievably crippled by nerves."

Mr Bruce had the foot work many champion boxers would envy. He believes that boxing is a sport that requires great skill.

"I don't really like the boxing these days, it's just a whole lot of bashing."

It was by chance that Mr Bruce started playing golf at the age of 46.

"My little wife would go out to play. I always thought of golf as being an elite sport reserved only for those who were very wealthy and didn't want to be a part of that," he said.

"She came home and said to me ‘I don't think it's good that you aren't coming to spend time with me'. I decided I would go along for a look."

Land was gifted to Walton Golf Club by a local farmer to set up a course and Mr Bruce was given the responsibility of beautifying it.

Not long after he moved into Matamata, he became a member of Matamata Golf Club he also planted trees and beautified the Matamata golf course.

Gifted with natural sporting ability, Mr Bruce went to the World Seniors Golf Tournament at Broadmoor Golf Club in Colorado twice.

The second time he went, he placed third. There were 358 starters from 38 countries.

"I was on the green for two. I putted the ball and it sat on the edge of the hole. I couldn't believe it," he says.

Mr Bruce says if he still had his eyesight, he would still be whacking a golf ball around.

"I miss it immensely, it was a wonderful time in for my life."

Every year Mr Bruce enters Matamata's iconic event the Tower Run and chooses a charity to support.

In 2011 Mr Dawson raised more than $6000 for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

"I listened to the devastation and knew I had to do something to help," he says.

He is thinking about entering the Tower Run next year to raise money for the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines.

"As long my body can cope, I'll keep entering and supporting a cause," he says.

A devout Catholic, Mr Bruce can count on his left hand how many times he hasn't attended church on Sunday. He says his faith has played a major role in the life he has lived.

"God has been very good to me. It doesn't matter which church you go to, having faith and values is something I think is very important," he says.

On any given day, you'll see him riding his mountain bike along the streets of Matamata.

"It's the only way I can get anywhere," he says.

Celebrating his 88th birthday at Christmas time, Mr Bruce has no intentions of slowing down, in fact he feels healthier than ever.

"As long as I'm fit and well, I will keep going," he says.

"I've had a wonderful life. Life is to be lived and that's what I intend to do - make each day count."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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