Dr Michael Bassett

Dr Michael Bassett

Newspaper Columns

Sir Ronald Trotter



Sir Ron Trotter had been ill for several years before he died last week. However, I have a huge feeling of sadness that he is gone after such a vital, practical and visionary life. I only knew what I had read about his life before 1984 when first meeting him. His years as an auctioneer, then as a young Wright Stephenson manager, and as a titan of industry who helped bring together the disparate parts that formed Fletcher Challenge, are part of the Trotter legend. I got to know him at the time of the Economic Summit Conference in September 1984 that he helped organize so that interest groups could express their opinions about what needed to be done to rescue the country from the parlous state to which Robert Muldoon had brought it. From then onwards his presence and his availability for advice were always reassuring to the government I served in as we went about restructuring the New Zealand economy. Ron Trotter selflessly undertook many functions as the business world re-adjusted, most particularly in his capacity as the foundation chair of the New Zealand Business Roundtable from 1986. It was never in Ron's personal interest that he helped us to remove so many controls and regulations. Like many, he could have sat back and continued to enjoy the benefits of a closed economy. But he understood that those regulations and controls were throttling New Zealand and were the principal cause of the country's seriously bad economic performance. He put personal interest aside, and urged others to do the same.

Along with my colleagues, I came to value Ron as a friend, even occasionally a confidant. Large, sometimes loquacious, occasionally long-winded, he was always logical. One learned early to hear him out because there was invariably a nugget of gold at the end of the story. After I retired from Parliament in 1990 I served with him for several years on the Dame Malvina Major Trust supporting young singers of promise. There I was privileged to witness at close quarters how his creative mind worked. He often conjured with an amazing array of possible solutions to issues we encountered. When arguing a point I sometimes wondered where he was going. It was quite a spectacle to then see him gradually pull down his thoughts into an ordered sequence. He could leave me feeling like a small boy watching a magician.

Some years later again I was privileged to be able to interview Ron Trotter about his life and works. He possessed a good memory, and one couldn't help marvelling that the small boy from Hawera with the big horse had achieved so much. Throughout, he manifested the strongest family values as well as impeccable personal standards. Sir Ron's was one of those lives that have had a huge impact on making the New Zealand of today what it is. His wife Margaret who was often at his side, and who helped nurse him through his last years, his three sisters who have each led lives of distinction, and his children, are the ones who deserve our sympathy.