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In Geoff's own words:
"I joined the RNZN in September 1961 as a Junior Seaman. I was 16 and half years old and coming from a military family (my Father was a career Engineer Officer in the RNZAF) wasn’t as nervous as some of the others in my class of CS21 in Drake Division. I can’t remember what I had for dinner last night but I will never forget Motuihe Island, the running up and down the hill to the beach, being marched into the surf, and playing hockey against the Blind Institute. We had a great group in CS21 and I was encouraged to play sport, mainly rugby, by everyone including Padre Harry Taylor and HMNZS Tamaki’s Commander Kempthorne. Motuihe Island offered many opportunities to participate in sport I was lucky enough to be invited to race against the great Peter Snell over 220 yds. He beat me like a rented mule as he thundered down the last 100 yds.
My first draft was in 1962 to Rotoiti and while I can’t remember the ports of call I do remember some of the characters such as George Elliott (Tutty) Bell who was often in the galley with a colander on his head as pot and pans flew about. I will never forget Mike Donaldson who took care of many of us young lads and in my case encouraged me to train hard and play rugby, which I did at every opportunity. In 1962 I was selected for the RNZN rugby team along with great team mates like Jim Senton, Tim Hurndell, Chiefy Tuheke, John Scalmer, Mike Ramsay et.al. I only wish I could remember who we played.
In late 1962 after a rather severe head knock I transferred to the Stores Branch and in 1963 was drafted to Taranaki. In those days NZ was part of SEATO and we sailed north to Guam and eventually Hawaii. It was while we were in Pearl Harbour that President Kennedy was assassinated and from what I can remember we were storing ship at the time with the announcement of Kennedy’s death made over the SRE by Padre Maori Marsden. We played a number of games on this trip including games in Japan and Hong Kong. It was also in Hong Kong that my appendix burst as we were leaving port. I was lifted off by helicopter and taken to Bowen Road hospital for surgery. A few weeks later on I was flown to Singapore and picked up Taranaki for the trip home.
I was at HMNZS Philomel for most of 1964/65 and played rugby at every opportunity. In 1964 I was selected to play for the Auckland Colts (under 21) and we went on tour to Hamilton (we beat Waikato Colts) and Tauranga where we played and beat the Bay of Plenty select team. The colts were a great team and included the great BG Williams who played on the wing. The coach/selector of the Auckland Colts was Noel Mortimer who asked me to consider playing for College Rifles, which I did the following season. I think it was this year that I also represented the RNZN at softball and athletics.
In 1965 I was drafted to HMS Blackpool and arrived in UK with another 100 draftees in February 1966. The Blackpool had a magnificent rugby team and I was honoured to be the captain. Commander Joe Quinn was skipper of Blackpool and he insisted the rugby team play at every opportunity. One day I was piped to report to his cabin where he introduced me to the Warden of the local Borstal in Portland who asked if I would have any problem getting a team together to play some of his inmates who needed to “let off steam” Commander Quinn said “Not at all” so we did. It was a robust rough and tough game and we managed to beat them. Some of the wonderful shipmates and rugby teammates included Homan Tapsell, Pete Thomas, Doug Te-Paa, Jeff Still, Butch Treloar, Jim Senton, Tom Tupe, Leighton Smith, Terry Martin et.al. Later in the voyage Homan Tapsell, Terry Martin, Jim Senton, Pete Thomas and I were selected for the Far East Combines services rugby team.
In 1967 I played for the College Rifles senior team in the Auckland Senior Competition and was lucky enough to be selected to play for Auckland against Hawkes Bay when the great Graeme Thorne was dropped. I marked All Black Ian McRae and played inside Malcolm Dick. I was also taken as a reserve to New Plymouth when Auckland played Taranaki. On the bus ride back to Auckland coach John Graham asked me to consider playing fulltime on the Auckland B side as Graeme Thorne was coming back. I went on tour with Auckland B and while playing against Horowhenua in Levin tore my ACL and my rugby career was over.
In 1968 I took up coaching doing my apprenticeship with the late Neil Cowley and the College Rifles 3rdgrade team. We did well under Neil’s leadership and luckily Mike Donaldson joined us and rewarded us with a superb fitness program. We coached the College Rifles senior team for the next two seasons and despite my desire to play again my knee was ruined so I burned my boots.
I left the RNZN in 1971 and went farming. I started on a town milk supply dairy farm south of Hamilton and eventually ended up managing a town supply farm in Tokoroa. By now I had two children, Will and Jenny, so entered a competition for the Tokoroa Town Milk Suppliers Award, which I won and winning it financed me into share milking. I did so in Te Awamutu milking 185 cows.
In 1979 I went through a dodgy divorce and walked off the farm and went to Wellington. While in Wellington I learned that the New York Rugby Club was looking for a coach for their fall season so I applied and was stunned when learning of my appointment. I arrived in New York City in February 1980 and started with the NYRC a few days later. There was no pay associated with the coaching job but I was given a job working in a well-known singles bar (The Sugar Mill) on 79th street. It was fun but my accent got me into trouble a few times. The rugby season back then was split into two seasons Spring and Fall. It was too hot to play in the summer and too cold to play in the winter. There were a number of fellow Kiwi’s in the NYRC team including Chris Liddell - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chris_Liddell - who I’m still in touch with.
My US Visa expired in July 1980 so when the Spring season finished I returned to NZ and worked in the export dept. of Wrightson NMA and later on TNL in Nelson. It was while I was with TNL that they decided to open an office in the USA and suggested I return and open it, which I did. I arrived back in late 1982 and set up an office in Port Washington on Long Island in New York. Unfortunately, the office was closed a few years later and I then worked for Fletcher Fishing before they went bankrupt, the Fishing Co-Op of Iceland, the NZ Lamb Co-Op and Kea New Zealand. All these positions involved a lot of traveling and at one time I spent 3 weeks a month for six years on the road managing food brokers.
I eventually retired to take care of my wife Nancy who had become Senior VP of audience research for NBC News and Sports, and having attended 10 Olympic Games she needed my RNZN expertise to take care of her!!
My last coaching job was in 2005 with Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania and despite the travel (80 miles each way 3 times a week) I loved it. In many cases coaching US Freshmen College students a sport such as rugby involves parents who are unfamiliar with the sport and attend coaching clinics to learn more. They usually enjoy the experience especially when they learn that rugby has no rules…..rugby has laws and the referee is the judge and jury. I have received many compliments on explaining this part of rugby and it never ceases to amaze me how much parents enjoy learning the “LAWS”
Rugby is growing in the USA and with 7’s being part of the Olympics it means the sport is now on national TV. While the current USA team’s efforts at the RWC have been less than enthusiastically received, I can’t help but feel that we’re on the right track and will only improve.
My time in the USA (36 years) has allowed me many opportunities from taking Sir Graham Henry, Sir Steve Hansen and Mike Cron to half day meetings with the NY Football Giants and the NY Yankees Baseball Team to me running the New York Marathon and many more.
I am forever grateful to what the RNZN gave me. I only wish I could remember more about my time served. Please forgive me if I failed to mention you. To all my shipmates, thank you. I love you all and “UP SPIRITS”