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IMG_0846.2-retouch copyCre­at­ing gaps to put team-mates in to score was Gerry Morris’s spe­ci­al­ity when he played South Island rep­res­ent­at­ive rugby league. Now that he’s play­ing in the windy gulch called The Ter­race, his game plan is pretty much the same. In the midst of any kind of busi­ness, it seems that Gerry can open up a gap and put a cli­ent through it to take advantage.

In his latest match he was draf­ted in as pro­mo­tion­al striker for the Phoenix Foot­ball Club’s inter­na­tion­al Foot­ball United ven­ture, which saw top teams from the ven­er­able New­castle United and West Ham clubs play offi­cial Eng­lish Premi­er League matches at the Cake Tin and in Duned­in and Auck­land. The job was to boost tick­et sales, which was spec­tac­u­larly suc­cess­ful after Gerry’s efforts.

His kick-off was a pre-tour Kiwi hos­pit­al­ity bar­be­cue for the vis­it­ing teams at the Proven­ance Vil­lage Butcher in Lon­don, run by New Zeal­anders Tom and Guy Gib­son and Erin Hurst, at which Wel­come to New Zea­l­and packs were handed out to the play­ers, an event ripe for media cov­er­age to oil the sta­di­um turn­stiles for Phoenix.

David Dome Phoenix CEO with Welcome to NZ pack for West Ham and Newcastle squads.

Wel­ling­ton Phoenix gen­er­al man­ager Dav­id Dome fea­tured in Gerry’s Foot­ball United Kiwi products wel­come pack

The pass to the wing was bring­ing New Zea­l­and com­pan­ies in as part­ners for Phoenix. Those com­pan­ies provided food, bever­ages and oth­er Kiwi products, includ­ing cop­ies of Fish­Head, to fill the wel­come packs provided by Kath­mandu. In return, they gained bene­fit from media cov­er­age in Bri­tain and New Zealand.

It wasn’t that hard,” says Gerry, “because all those com­pan­ies could see the poten­tial as soon as the idea was mooted.”

The real reas­on it all came togeth­er is that Gerry is a com­puls­ive organ­iser, wheth­er with­in the Wel­ling­ton arts com­munity and organ­isa­tions like the Wel­ling­ton Racing Club or run­ning gigant­ic pub­lic cam­paigns. Organ­ising is his oxy­gen — it gets him bub­bling with the exuber­ance of a nine-year-old giv­en a new puppy — and he has a magic­al abil­ity to enthuse every­one involved.

Gerry’s cam­paigns have won him awards from his peers both in New Zea­l­and and over­seas. One of the most fam­ous was for the Fire Ser­vice, stat­ing the sober mes­sage that smoke can kill you without wak­ing you. It led to smoke alarms being made com­puls­ory in homes. His best work has nev­er made him rich. The two cam­paigns of which he is proudest were done pro bono, because he believed they needed to be done. They were for the bet­ter­ment of two things nearest his heart — beer and Wellington.

He was par­tic­u­larly gal­van­ised in 2001 when Domin­ion Brew­er­ies closed the 150-year-old Grey­mouth Monteith’s brew­ery with the loss of 14 jobs, intend­ing to move the oper­a­tion to Auck­land (sup­posedly because the Grey­mouth brew­ery could not handle the increased demand for its beer).

With­in 12 hours of the clos­ure announce­ment, expat­ri­ate West Coast­ers liv­ing in Wel­ling­ton were organ­ised to lead a boy­cott of not only Monteith’s beers but also the full range of DB products. The cam­paign soon spread nation­wide and with­in five days DB was forced to reverse its decision. The Grey­mouth brew­ery still oper­ates prof­it­ably and its new-found fame has made it a tour­ist attrac­tion, adding fur­ther value for its owners.

A second cam­paign in 2000 mobil­ised pub­lic opin­ion against a secret­ive Wel­ling­ton City Coun­cil plan to allow massive water­front devel­op­ment that would cut off the city from the har­bour. That led to the plan, called Vari­ation 17, being aban­doned and helped strengthen cit­izens’ lobby groups.

Gerry says, “The strategy in both cases was straight­for­ward, simply rep­res­ent­ing what the pub­lic wanted to mono­liths which, to their cost, simply diNotting Hill BBQ 119dn’t wish to know what the pub­lic wanted, in one case to a deaf and dumb coun­cil mys­ter­i­ously try­ing to des­troy one of the finest fea­tures of Wel­ling­ton and in the oth­er a nar­row-minded cor­por­ate giant.

In the end com­mon sense pre­vailed and every­body bene­fits. For a Grey­mouth Mar­ist High School old boy, the out­comes were pretty satisfying.”

Since then he has worked for the New Zea­l­and Rugby Foot­ball Uni­on, nation­al cor­por­a­tions, dis­trict health boards and tire­lessly on any issue for the West Coast, includ­ing the Wild­foods Fest­iv­al and for fam­il­ies of vic­tims of the Pike River Mine dis­aster, who include his own. An addi­tion­al blow was the recent death from can­cer of his broth­er-in-law Den­nis Smith, who had a big influ­ence in his life. “He’s the only Pike River miner who’s had a funer­al,” Gerry says.

It hasn’t been the only dark time. The com­plex­it­ies of Gerry’s life have brought him downs as well as highs. Slice him open and you’d find fam­ily blood as thick as bitu­men run­ning in green Irish veins, coal dust in his lungs, and vital organs in the col­ours of his home now, his beloved cap­it­al city. Just walk the water­front with him, bowed to the breeze — or the gale, it doesn’t mat­ter, we’re still walk­ing — and hear how he loves it.

All that is driv­en by a heart purple with pas­sion — how could it be else, giv­en his her­it­age? He nev­er for­gets favours, seems humbled when they occur, and will spend the rest of his life return­ing them. But deal­ing with the oth­er side of life’s ledger has been hard for a pas­sion­ate man. For self-pre­ser­va­tion he found sal­va­tion in Nel­son Mandela.

Man­dela said, ‘Resent­ment is like drink­ing pois­on and then hop­ing it will kill your enemies’,” Gerry says. “He put enmity behind him, put hate behind him, and look what he achieved. That’s the les­son of the man.” Gerry no longer loses sleep over the effect of actions or events, in busi­ness or his once tur­bu­lent life out­side it, that he can’t control.

I accept them like the weath­er,” he says. “Of course we’re going to get storms, but in this long, skinny row of islands they soon blow over, and Wel­ling­ton is in one of the nar­row­est parts so they pass even quick­er. Many a won­der­ful day begins in fog, and Wel­ling­ton gets among the highest num­ber of sun­shine hours of any­where in the country.

I’ve learnt you can enjoy the worst, too, if you’ve got the right coat — and life is made to enjoy, not lament. More than ever now I value any rewards that come my way, par­tic­u­larly those of good­will and not neces­sar­ily cash in the bank. I might well appre­ci­ate a couple of seats to a game at the Cake Tin more than the final few dol­lars of a payment.”

When the iPhone is switched off, Gerry usu­ally is with his gentle part­ner, phar­macist Alex Broad, and with her cat and dog in their tiny inner-city flat, a short walk or bike ride from most of the places they like. Trav­el­ling Brit­ish West Ham fans crammed into it for parties dur­ing the Foot­ball United tour. The walls carry Gerry’s memor­ies. He was a trust­ee of the Wel­ling­ton Afford­able Arts Trust for eight years and its chair for three. It is now the New Zea­l­and Art Show, selling more than $1 mil­lion worth of loc­al, afford­able art­works over an annu­al weekend.

Still a sports nut, Gerry was on the com­mit­tee of the Wel­ling­ton Racing Club for five years from 2003. He raised more than half a mil­lion dol­lars in fund­ing for the club and led the Trentham track centen­ni­al in 2006, bring­ing train­er Bart Cum­mings and oth­er luminar­ies to Wel­ling­ton for the event. But his first love is still rugby league, which he indulges on the side­line — rain, hail or shine — dur­ing matches of the Pori­rua Vik­ings Under 18s (he is their pres­id­ent). He says of his role: “The trick is to build the spir­it that gets them off the couch and keeps them out of court.”

As for the future — Gerry lives by the cer­tainty that there always is one — don’t be sur­prised to see him car­ry­ing a ban­ner for the inter­na­tion­al Hilton Hotels & Resorts group, which, it is rumoured, might have decided that the time is right to estab­lish a multi-pur­pose prop­erty in Wellington.

It will bring a new crowd and more rev­en­ue to the city because it will put Wel­ling­ton on a wider world map,” Gerry says. “It will be rev­en­ue the city oth­er­wise would not see because it is from a dif­fer­ent cli­en­tele the city oth­er­wise would not see. Every great city has to have a Hilton. Par­is knows that. I’m sure she’d love to come to the open­ing of the Wel­ling­ton Hilton Hotel and Con­ven­tion Centre — she’d fit right in to the coolest little capital.”

And in lieu of a fee, Gerry might accept a per­man­ent table in a Hilton res­taur­ant where he could argue with a circle of mates, begin­ning, as always, with the saluta­tion “You bas­tards…”, then raise a glass and pro­nounce a grin­ning “Cheers”. As always.

Notting Hill BBQ 116

I’ve nev­er actu­ally even rid­den in one of these, but a boy can dream, can’t he?”

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