Thursday, 16 July 2020


Fifty years as a Whitianga Lion

The Whitanga Lions Club celebrated charter member and retired electrician, Shirwin Lee’s 50 years as a Lion on Thursday last week. The dinner celebration was attended by current and former members of the club, and several of Shirwin’s family and friends.

Among those enjoying the dinner were Shirwin’s wife Judy, brother David, son Andrew and former Lion, Ted Ramsbotham, who was a charter member of the club with Shirwin.

The Whitianga Lions Club was established in October 1965. Shirwin, who lived most of his life in Whitianga, was a member of the club until 1969, when he “took a break” for four years. He re-joined the club in 1973.

On Thursday evening, Shirwin and Judy were presented with several gifts to acknowledge their decades of service to the Mercury Bay community. Well-known Whitianga resident, Gordon Barnaby, also a Lion with many decades of service, recalled how Shirwin started working for Whitianga power station owner, Howard Clark, as a mechanic when he was 17 years old.

Gordon read a few paragraphs from an article Shirwin wrote in 2003 for a Lions New Zealand magazine about his years working for Howard. “The radiators for the [electricity generating] engines were large ponds which were filled with frogs,” Shirwin wrote. “When we switched from one engine to another, we had to catch the frogs, otherwise they would be boiled. I became a very good frog catcher and am… thinking of this as further employment in my retirement.”

Eventually Shirwin progressed to an apprenticeship as an electrician with Howard. He worked for Howard for 13 years before, in his words, “branching out on his own.”

Gordon also pointed out that the Whitianga Lions Club will never have the opportunity again to celebrate a charter member’s five decades as a Lion. “Let’s not underestimate the enormity of this occasion, this is a very special dinner,” he said. “Let me also say that involvement in the Lions isn’t Shiriwn’s only service to the community. He, of course, is a longstanding member of the Whitianga Volunteer Fire Brigade as well.”

When he was given the opportunity to say a few words, Shirwin spoke about the changing face of the Lions and how health and safety legislation prevents them these days from doing the things they did in the ordinary course of business years ago. “I talk about things like chopping up firewood for all the local pensioners,” Shiriwn said. “There was this one time when I split my shin open with an axe. When I got to the local doctor, he didn’t bother with any anaesthetic. I had to be stitched up and there was no time to waste.

“I also recall when we helped the school committee to build the old primary school swimming pool in Whitianga. It ended up us against them in a concrete mixing competition. I can’t remember who were the winners, but the school committee must have appreciated our help because they certainly made sure we all had enough to drink afterwards.

“Despite the changes, it’s still fun to be a Lion and I plan to be around for many more years to come.”

And in between being a Lion and a fireman, Shirwin may just start to think about catching frogs again… 

Pictured: Shirwin and Judy Lee during the dinner on Thursday evening last week where Shirwin’s 50 years as a member of the Whitianga Lions Club were clebrated.


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The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.