15 Jun 2021

Remembering Sir Eion Edgar: 'an incredible person to have a conversation with'

7:14 pm on 15 June 2021

Philanthropist and businessman Sir Eion Edgar is being remembered for his selfless generosity, living life to the fullest and his wicked bowling arm in his youth.

Sir Eion Edgar

Sir Eion Edgar. Photo: Photosport

He died yesterday from cancer at the age of 76 in his Queenstown home.

Tributes have been flowing in for Sir Eion from across the country for a man who made connections wherever he went.

It is hard to list all that Sir Eion Edgar was involved in or donated to. Even his friends, including businessman Sir Ian Taylor, were still discovering more of his generous deeds after decades of friendship.

"It's wonderful seeing the contributions he's made. And I think the real big thing for Eion would be that he still had a lot to give. He still would have been going if it was 100. He would not have stopped and it would really have peeved him that he still felt like there was a lot to give. And he wasn't able to carry on with that, but right to the very end, he made sure he was doing everything he could and ... that's the Eion I will always remember," he said.

Sir Eion served as president of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, Chancellor of University of Otago, chair of Forsyth Barr Group, director of the Reserve Bank among many other positions.

He was knighted in 2009 for services to education, business and sport.

Sir Ian Taylor - Maatauranga

Sir Ian Taylor. Photo: supplied by Sir Ian Taylor

Despite his many commitments, Sir Ian said, he made time for his friends.

"I'm only four years younger than he is. But he always used to call me young fella. Even last week, I get this call: 'young fella I've got this idea about the sports museum'. Just step back and say, 'I'm just four years younger than you, mate'. But that was his thing. I was always a young fella," he said.

"He always had time, you'd run into them in an airport, you'd run into him anyway, or just out of the blue, he'd get a phone call because he thought of something else that he thought should be done, and he was going to make sure it got done."

Sir Ian said his company Animation Research would not have got off the ground if Sir Eion had not believed in its vision and backed it.

Last week he got a call out of the blue about their plans for an interactive national sports hall of fame for Dunedin and made some suggestions.

"That's as far as it went. And then suddenly, I'm included in some emails to his lawyers, where he's instructing them to change his will and set aside half a million dollars as a starting point and give it to ARL and trust so that we can get on with making it happen. I mean, that all happened within 24 hours and one phone call," Taylor said.

His long time friend and iconic artist Sir Grahame Sydney remembers Sir Eion in his university days, already an influential man who wore tweed jackets and smoked a pipe.

"While he was relatively privileged, he had a powerful motivation for the greater good. This was never a man that you would think of as being in any way selfish. He was the exact opposite, he was generosity. And that notion of the greater good I think pervaded his life," he said.

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Distinguished Central Otago artist Grahame Sydney last week was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for his services to art. Photo: Nathan Secker

He wanted to leave the world a better place and he did just that without boasting, he said.

"He's a role model for New Zealanders. It's not common that wealthy individuals are so disposed towards philanthropy, and open generosity. In that sense, he's left an extraordinary mark and I would love it to be emulated by others."

He visited Sir Eion at his home in recent weeks, where two of his artworks are hung.

"And he was telling us about one of his great moments as a schoolboy at McGlashan College, playing another school - probably Otago Boys, since they were such enemies - about ... his best ever bowling performance as a schoolboy when he took five wickets for three runs, I think in the first innings, and something like six wickets for four in the second and he was absolutely electric with pleasure at that memory," he said.

Sir Eion also set up the Winter Games, and its chief executive Martin Toomey said his passion had helped it to become the international event it was with his unique ability to bring people together.

"He was generous, not just with money which a lot of people think about as philanthropists, but generous with time, generous with energy. I mean he is an incredible person to sit and have a conversation with. You always felt like you were the only person in the room."

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