Turning 100 years old is an amazing achievement to be celebrated in its own right, but Bert Sutcliffe resident Neill Boak had an extra surprise in store for his milestone birthday today.
The WWII veteran and retired quantity surveyor who is famous amongst family and friends for his life motto ‘have fun’ is the first 100-year-old New Zealander to receive a birthday card from the new monarch, King Charles III, and it was delivered to him in person by local MP Simon Watts on the day.
“We had to pull out all the stops to get it to you in time, but you are the first person in New Zealand to receive a card from King Charles III, so congratulations!” Simon said.
There were tv crews and newspaper journalists in tow too, with all the excitement leaving Neill rather lost for words!
“Amazing! How the hell did I manage that?” he exclaimed. “I’m a bit overcome!”
There had been a fair bit of subterfuge and conspiracy to organise the royal surprise which had left Neill’s family and carers a bit panicked when it hadn’t arrived.
The cards must be applied for in advance and with the change from Queen to King, the website had warned there may be delays.
Neill with his care companion Noelene, reading his card from King Charles III.
When Neill’s personal care companion Noelene got involved she tracked the card down but was told nothing could be done until days after his birthday. That is, until she appealed to Simon Watts for help.
“I’m very grateful to Simon and his secretary Grace who did an hour round trip to find it, then flew it back to Auckland and brought it here today,” she said.
Noelene arranged with Neill’s friend Lee to surprise him following the main birthday speech by Neill’s nephew Ted Baker and Ted's son Andrew.
“We’re celebrating not just a particular milestone but a particular person,” said Ted.
“I had a message from some of his friends describing him as loving, wise, kind and fun, and that’s I think something we would all reiterate.
“None of us knows what the future holds but Neill’s life has been an inspiration to us.”
Ted talked about Neill’s interesting life and background, about how he was born in India where his father worked on the Indian railways, before moving back to New Zealand aged two.
From left: Neill's daughter Andra Boak, his nephew Ted Baker, Neill and great nephew Andrew Baker.
He went to Tauranga Boys College followed by Kings College in Auckland where he was a champion swimmer.
He started studying quantity surveying but with WWII going on he was conscripted and after initially joining the Army he transferred to the Air Force where he was sent to Canada for training.
Neill’s role was flying Catalinas for rescue missions in the Pacific, picking up pilots who had been shot down by the Japanese.
“I asked him what it was like, was he scared, and he said he was bloody scared,” Ted said.
Neill returned to quantity surveying after the war, retiring in 1999 at the grand old age of 87, which made him the oldest practicing surveyor at that time.
Neill is also known for his passion for Holden cars, having owned 18 throughout his life.
He married Philippa Hayward ‘the love of his life’ and they had two children – Andra, who had flown in from the US to attend her father’s special day, and Elizabeth who sadly died a few years ago.
Ted said his own father died when he was 12 and Neill was like a surrogate father to him and his three siblings, Richard, Ruth and Linley.
Richard and his wife Yana had travelled all the way from Wales for the occasion.
North Shore MP Simon Watts personally brought the card to Neill on his birthday.
“This brings me to one of Neill’s most endearing characteristics which is that he takes enormous pleasure in helping other people, that’s what makes him happy, being able to help other people to live well and fulfil their lives," Ted said.
“His mantra is to have fun, and that seems to have caught on with the other people here at Bert Sutcliffe. Now the other residents come around and say ‘have fun’ because Neill started that off.”
Ted thanked the team at Bert Sutcliffe, Neill’s many friends including special friend Lee, his care companion Noelene and also Neill himself for being ‘bloody fantastic’.
Great nephew Andrew proposed a toast to Neill: “To 100 of the best years to an amazing man in all our lives. We love you so much. Happy birthday!”
The big question though was did Neill have fun on his big birthday?
"I had so much fun!" he said.