In Conversation with John Brownbill
I was born on the 12th of September 1929 right at the beginning of the Great Depression.
As a small boy, I remember seeing many houses around us in Camberwell up for auction because people couldn’t afford to keep them.
Dad often explained to me that businesses were closing, there were no jobs and people were going hungry. He always made sure I understood the ways of the world, even at such a young age. My Dad was a brilliant engineer in the railways both mechanical and electrical and eventually became the Chief Commissioner of the Victorian Railways. He was also Commander Royal Engineers in the Citizen Military Forces.
It was a wonderful childhood. The local milkman let me sit on the horses. Dad and I watched cricket and football together and he would tell me all kinds of stories.
I was sent to Scotch College but had no motivation at all for schoolwork. I put all of my energy into sport. During my early years at Scotch College, the polio epidemic closed the school for three months and, a lot like the children of today we were forced to learn from home. In my day it was all done through the mail.
In my 15th year I grew 7 inches, and in my 16th year another five inches so I became a big, tall strapping lad and when I left school I was headhunted by the local Kiwi Rugby Union Club (now called the Kiwi Hawthorn Club) and joined the A grade side. I played until I left to fight in the Korean War. I was a platoon commander with the 3rd Battalion of The Royal Australian Regiment.
Subsequently, when I returned to play rugby after Korea when I was 28 years old, I lost most of my top teeth on the rugby field and as a result, I had to hang up my boots. I later became Vice President of the club and am now a life member.
I married when I was 34 and my wife passed away 7 years ago, leaving me with a son and daughter, 2 lovely granddaughters, a grandson and a great-grandson. A wonderful, thoughtful and happy team.
I played very hard when returning from Korea (and worked exceptionally hard at a shipping company as well.) Realising this way of life had to end, I gave up drinking and smoking for my 50th birthday. After finally settling down, I commenced studying theology at Ridley College, part-time, at the age of 52 and continued for the next eight years.
I graduated at 60 years of age.
Upon graduation, I was appointed to the Interchurch Trade and Industry Mission as a full-time Chaplain where I remained for the next 30 years. The Korean veterans also asked me to be their chaplain and by word of mouth this expanded into being chaplain to thirty-five Ex-service organisations, all of which I still work for today in an honorary capacity.
Lessons I’ve learnt
Delay making friends immediately upon joining an organisation until you’re sure you’ve found people you can trust.
It’s important to keep your CV and LinkedIn up-to-date so you’re always a step ahead. Very few jobs are guaranteed to last.
I believe one’s whole life should be centred around loyalty.
I’m of the era which believes that a request from above is to be obeyed without question, not a signal to open a discussion.
Be honest in all dealings at all times, and seek advice when needed.
Always explore all the avenues before making a major decision in life.
Rather than take any old job, endeavour to work in an environment which creates contentment in you. I know you will enjoy life a lot more. Remember the statement by Kahlil Gibran “work is love made visible.”
Organise, deputise and supervise at all times in business. This together with a quotation from Napoleon has been of great influence in my career: “the reason I was never beaten in battle is that the situation never occurred which I had not pre- considered.” Also of merit is the following thought: “And those who rose to dizzy heights did so burning candles, while others slept at nights.”
Understanding a business or industry from the ground up as my dad did, I did and what my daughter is doing, is the key to longevity and respect. Bringing people in halfway up the chain doesn’t work. They don’t understand the culture of the industry and can have a negative effect on morale.
You never know who you will be working with or for, so always be respectful of everyone who crosses your life’s journey.
How do you feel at 92?
The limitations of age have never occurred to me, I’m just continuing to enjoy my life as I always have. I concentrate on my main task which is to help other people at all times in any way I can.
I’ll leave you with a philosophical gem. “When you make money the bottom line, morality, ethics and any other worthwhile virtues fly out the window.”
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