Knights of the Waikato

21:45, Dec 30 2013
Peter Vela
FAMILY BEHIND VELA SUCCESS: Peter Vela, his wife Pam and two of their children Nicholas and Petrea quietly celebrate his knighthood.

Two Waikato men from very different walks of life - a man of the cloth and a horse breeder - have received the country's highest honour - the Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Former Archbishop of Waikato David Moxon was singled out for his services to the Anglican Church, while Tamahere horse breeder Peter Vela received his KNZM for service to the thoroughbred industry.

Only two others in the country were so honoured: Christchurch's former mayor Bob Parker was knighted for services to local body affairs and community, and Rotorua and Te Arawa leader Toby Curtis was knighted for services to Maori education.

David Moxon
COMMUNITY HERO TO KNIGHT: Archbishop David Moxon returned home to Hamilton in time for the announcement of the 2014 New Year Honours.

Sir David Moxon was happy to be known as sir after former archbishops set the precedent for its use in New Zealand, while Sir Peter Vela said he wasn't fussed.

"You can call me anything, just don't call me late for dinner," quipped Sir Peter.

Sir David moved to Rome as the Anglican communion's international ambassador to the Vatican earlier in the year but he was unsure whether the Pope would refer to him by his new title.


"I think he would be inclined to call me Archbishop. I think in a strictly church context, I suspect, I don't know, he doesn't know yet, I suspect he would stay with Archbishop."

Sir David was back in Hamilton for the official announcement of the New Years Honours list and said the knighthood was an unexpected surprise.

"I thought there must have been a mistake in the text because I've never really seen myself in that league at all," he said. "I had to read it two or three times to make sure I'd understood it correctly."

He was a driving force behind the controversial youth justice unit at Te Ara Hou in Hillcrest and campaigned against Hamilton's riverside casino. He said the award was recognition of the place of the church in New Zealand.

"I was elected to be an archbishop, I can't function without a national church, it doesn't make sense to be a lone stranger in this role, you only exist, you only function because you've got a huge community of interest around you."

He was raised in the church but was an agnostic at university. Mr Moxon said his calling to the priesthood came in 1974 and he was ordained as a deacon four years later.

He is dedicated to the fight to make the world a better place.

"The reason I accepted the job in representing the Anglican worldwide church through the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Pope and the Vatican, to the Catholic Church in Rome, is to see if we can get some more joined up thinking and action around poverty, justice and development where the world is hurting the most, where the wounds of the world are most acute."

In 2002, thoroughbred breeder Peter Vela was made ONZM (Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit). When the Times spoke to him at his holiday home at Opito Bay, on the Coromandel Peninsula, he said it would take some getting used to.

"I'm delighted beyond description but this honour really goes that much further than the first because it recognises your family and friends and schools and universities. Everybody shares a little of the honour and the pleasure."

Sir Peter started a commercial fishing company with his brother Philip in the 1970s. They bred horses together until they split the business earlier this year.

He said his family was a huge part of his success.

"You think of your parents immediately and your family. You think about those sorts of things, the family who have sacrificed so much and a wife of 43 years who has put up with it all and it's just a great time to reflect."

He still harboured the same passion for the racing industry he did when they first started breeding horses and said he would never get over it.

"It's just the excitement of the industry and trying to do good, breed good horses, enjoy good racing and the challenge of doing something that is very difficult but is very rewarding."

The Vela brothers bought Wrightson Breeders in 1996 and he said it was one of the most memorable moments of his illustrious career.

"There have been some wonderful moments but I suppose the thing that I'll look back on is the way we were able to buy the sales company which at the time probably needed someone to do that. I look back on that with a fair degree of satisfaction that it was a good thing to have done."

Rotorua educationalist Toby Curtis' career spanned 45 years and took him from the primary to the tertiary sector.

Sir Toby said he was humbled by the knighthood and said Maori education had made significant steps but more work needed to be done to reduce the Maori failure rate in mainstream schools.

"When I started off, everything in terms of Maori aspirations had to fit into a Pakeha framework. Now everything we want fits into a Maori framework to the point that Maori, in order for us to get proper success, Maori language is central to that development."

For more honours, turn to pages 3, 4 and 8.

Waikato Times