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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 12 (March 1, 1935)


(S. P. Andrew, photo.) Mr. R. W. McVilly.

(S. P. Andrew, photo.)
Mr. R. W. McVilly.

IN a period of fifty years or so the Railway service has produced its due proportion (and more) of champions in almost every field of athletic endeavour; many of them men whose names are indelibly written in the history of sport in New Zealand. The champion basking in the limelight is the cynosure of all eyes, but behind him, unseen (often unheard of) by the crowds that applaud them, are the men who make the limelight itself—the administrators of sport. In this world of economic stress and strife there is still, luckily, that saving grace which prompts certain human beings to disregard their leisure (and sometimes, too, their own material advancement) to work and plan and organise the leisure of others. In this sphere of human activity, where men, for no material reward at all, freely and willingly give time and effort which, in their vocations, they would consider slavery, the Railway service has taken a part that has never been fully recognised. Take the sport of boxing, for instance. There was a time when it was practically controlled in Wellington (and to its great benefit) by a small band of railwaymen.

Of all the railway servants who have thus given their time and spared no labour, none is more entitled to honour than Mr. R. W. McVilly. How, on earth, in those far off pre-war days (when the best the service could do for its next in command to the General Manager was to label him Chief Clerk) Mr. McVilly could spare the time for a bare perusal of sporting results let alone do what he did in the field of management of them, always was a puzzle. We knew he had a home somewhere (rumour had it in Kelburn), but at almost any hour of any day or night there he was in that office in Featherston Street, behind that barricade of files that never lowered an inch. And yet come a meeting of the Boxing Association, the New Zealand Rowing Association, or the Wellington Centre of the N.Z.A.A.A., he would be there. Very much there, indeed, until all hours of the night at times, and then, as often as not, back to that office in Featherston Street. As another man will wearily leave his toil for a breath of air and a mental or physical let up, he would leave his office for a night of hard work to keep some struggling sport alive. Even during the day he would find time to let the Railways run on their own wheels for a moment or two while, after giving play to that faculty of his for sitting like the Sphinx and listening, he would with words few and decisive settle some sporting point that had caused endless trouble.

I first met him when as a stripling of eighteen I attended as a delegate from a club (now defunct) my first annual meeting of the Wellington Centre of the N.Z.A.A.A. That meeting extended over two nights, until one a.m. on each occasion. The nights were warm, and so were the discussions. I fell foul of him that night—practically the only time in the thirty years all told I have known him. He loved an argument in those days—mainly, I suppose, because it was a relief from the daily office round where he gave the orders and no arguing.

His three sporting loves, as I have said, were rowing, boxing and athletics. I knew him not as a rowing administrator, that not being one of my own sports. In boxing on and off for many years I came in contact with him, and knew him for the stalwart he was. But it was, and is, in athletics (in which his interest is still as alive as ever) I have had most opportunity of valuing his great services.

Holding the position he did in the biggest of all State enterprises there never has been any question of his using sport as a means of self-assertion or seeking the limelight. His forthright pronouncements have at times been the subject of much newspaper discussion which, favourable or otherwise, has left him unmoved. For years he declined honours which the athletic world wanted to bestow on him because he knew where he would be of the greatest service to the sport. I remember when in 1909 the headquarters of the N.Z.A.A.A. were permanently
(Rly. Publicity photo.) Ocean Beach, The Mount, Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand.

(Rly. Publicity photo.)
Ocean Beach, The Mount, Tauranga, North Island, New Zealand.

page 46 page 47
(Photo, H. Bennett.) A class locomotive No. 582, with the Maungaturoto-Auckland train, 1st June, 1933.

(Photo, H. Bennett.)
A class locomotive No. 582, with the Maungaturoto-Auckland train, 1st June, 1933.

transferred to Wellington from Christchurch, after the period of some six months or so during which there were two bodies claiming Dominion control. He had taken a prominent part in the revolution, but once peace was restored he steadfastly declined a seat on the Dominion Council. He knew he could render greater service to New Zealand athetics by remaining on the Wellington Centre to guide its very active destinies when Wellington led the way (how times have changed!) than by anything that could be done on the controlling body.

Of the help he was to the Wellington Centre the full story will never be told. No man was more adroit in hiding his own benefactions. I remember when overseas athletic teams came to New Zealand the promptness with which Wellington's share of the guarantee would be lodged used to cause some astonishment in other centres. None of them knew that it was always a cheque signed R. W. McVilly that furnished the guarantee. But, after all, those guarantees and the trophies he has given at various times when their stimulus was needed are but fragments of the whole of the valuable services he has given. What a stalwart support he was in bad times! When things were going well he could be as hasty as any of us, but when they were bad he was the well of calm strength from which we drew reviving draughts. He would preside at a meeting, sitting silent while others thrashed a question to pieces and left them scattered. The meeting would end without anything being done. But next day perhaps he would quietly solve the difficulty.

In the days to which I am particularly referring, Mr. McVilly had no club affiliation, which was in itself all to the good. Not that there would be any thought of his views being influenced by club interests, but the very fact of his having none set him apart from all club strife—and there was plenty of it and to spare. Now, however, that he is President of the New Zealand Council, which knows not the individual club in its official relations, he is an enthusiastic member of the Wellington Club deriving keen enjoyment from an occasional trip with it.

It would be idle to claim that Mr. McVilly has never made mistakes. The mistakes he has made, however, have generally come about through ill-advised attempts by others to bounce him from a stand he took in the beginning—in many cases from the desire to draw out the other side of the case. Invariably in those cases no threat would shift him. But though at times he was, and even nowadays is, in my humble judgment, wrong in the individual instance, he has been seldom, if ever, wrong in the long view.

Of course Mr. McVilly was an athlete of parts in his own youth—a sound oarsman and a good track walker. I had hoped to give something of his own career in these sports notes, but even the threat to manufacture them if he did not supply me with chapter and verse, produced no more than a twinkle in the eye and an unmistakable (though wholly genial) bristling of that moustache. It was perfectly evident that, as ever, his interest is in the youth of to-day and not in his own far-off athletic past. For all that, he is just a wee bit proud of being the uncle of Cecil McVilly, of Tasmania, one of the finest amateur scullers Australia produced prior to the advent of the miraculous Bobby Pearce.