Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008



(by Jill Cleave, Hauraki Herald)

John Cotter made this world a better place for thousand of people by simply being who he was — a quiet, uncomplicated and caring person.

With a great love of God, his family and people, John Cotter always put the needs of others ahead of his own.

John was born in Te Awamutu, the first child of Thomas and Elizabeth Cotter, and spent the first 12 years of his life moving around the country as his father worked for the New Zealand Railways.

John Cotter showing visitors

John Cotter is seen here doing what he did with pride: Showing visitors "his country", the Karangahake Gorge.

John Charles Cotter
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 52, September 2008
John Cotter showing visitors "his country",

By the time the Cotters arrived at Karangahake in 1924 the family had grown to include John's siblings Betty, Tom, Eileen, Joyce and Pat.

John spent two years travelling by train to St. Joseph's school in Paeroa.

He showed his devotion to family when, at the age of 14, he turned his back on his boyhood dream of becoming a priest to support his family through a crisis. His father had become ill just after purchasing a block of land in Karangahake and the venture would have failed had John chosen to leave home.

He worked hard on the farm and did not have a lot of social life but two things—joining the Manchester Unity Oddfellows Lodge and becoming involved in the Karangahake Cricket Club—influenced his life and began his involvement in numerous community organisations for the next 70 years.

In his early 20s he played rugby at the Mackaytown Domain and when the Karangahake Rugby Club went into recess a few of the "Hake Boys" joined the West Football Club in Paeroa in 1933.

At the West club's centennial celebrations in 2002, John and his old goldmining mate Ben Gwilliam, both nearly 90, were afforded special honours as the oldest living club members in attendance.

After farming came gold mining, which John enjoyed for five years. In an extract from a book of his memories—Riches Without Gold, written by his son Michael—he said: "It was like a beautiful dream, there were highs and lows, but we finished up with very little, apart from great memories and great friendships".

In the late 1930s he met Alice Elizabeth O'Dwyer and they were married in St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Waihi, on July 26, 1939.

John, with wife and young son, needed a steady income to raise his growing family he so moved to Ngatea to work for Stembridge's Transport. There he worked among the people of the Hauraki Plains carrying milk, butter, cheese and stock as the nation strove to meet the war needs of countries in Europe and the Pacific. He is still remembered by many families of the Plains.

In 1946 the Cotters moved back to Karangahake to take over the family farm.

John was soon involved in the local school, serving as chairman for two years and then with sons Michael and Patrick going to St. Joseph's School in Paeroa, turned his hand to improving things there that had changed little since his school days.

He formed the St. Joseph's Home and School Association and thanks to his persistence, hard work and personality most of the basic needs of the school and children were met.

As his children's education shifted he became a member of the Paeroa College Board of Governors, taking over the role of chairman after a short time.

In the mid-1960s the Ohinemuri County Council needed a dedicated citizen to represent Karangahake Riding and John accepted nomination, being elected in 1968 and served for the next 12 years, often chairing many of the council's sub-committees.

Unfortunately John's wife, Alice, became ill and he resigned from council in 1980 and from many of the other committees he was involved in to devote his time to her care.

In 2002 John was presented with a medal by the Hauraki District Council for Outstanding Service to the Community over a period of 75 years. The presentation was made by the then Mayor Basil Morrison.

In his reply he said: "If the Governor General was here to tap me on the shoulder and call me Sir John, I would not be any prouder than I am to receive this from you today, Basil".

Michael Cotter, in his eulogy to his father, listed some of things his father did not do in his life:

"He never owned a new car, house or tractor. He never owned a business, a computer, or cell phone. And he never scored a century: Being run out on 95 on January 4, 2008, was the closest he got."

There was a very large gathering residents from Karangahake, Paeroa and Hauraki Plains to join with family to pay their last respects at St. Mary's Catholic Church to man gave service before self.