Brian Phillips. Born in Kilbirnie, attended Lyall Bay school, and decided that he wasn’t going to be a diplomat or a scholar, he went to Wellington Tech for 3 years. Interested in the practical things in life, he enjoyed the woodwork and metalwork, largely because other school work was something of a struggle. Friends are a big deal to Brian. One of his first friends at primary school is still a friend today, someone Brian tries to catch up with at least annually.


“I met a youngster at Lyall bay School, and the first day there was this little squinty guy, and my memory told me we had a bit of a to and fro. The teacher came along and made us shake hands, and we’ve been friends ever since. Graeme Petersen and I have made a point of keeping in touch on our birthdays. I went to his 80th, and he came to mine.”

During Brian’s time at Wellington tech, Brian and a friend were sent to a farm in Taranaki as part of the War effort, to make up for the fact that the workers were going overseas as soldiers.

“You could only travel by permit, and I was 14 year years old and working on a farm. It wasn’t a hardship at all, and we stayed and worked with a family with no kids, and we were fed up on lots of milk, cheese, eggs and cream. Not saying we did not have these at home, but these people treated me as one of their own with their farm produce.”

Belonging is important to Brian. Upon leaving home, Brian went to work on the same farm he had volunteered on, largely because of the kindness and wonderful treatment he received at the farm. His stays on farms in Taranaki, and Manawatu were defined not in terms of promotion or financial reward, but by the way he was accepted into the family.


“It’s a great feeling, it’s an honour to meet strangers, to get to know them, and to be treated like family. One employer took me in, and travelled all the way to Wellington to meet my parents. The privilege extended to me, a stranger, it’s important.”

Brian met Gladys who was a daughter in the family of a farm where he worked at Tokomaru.

“I actually took out the third daughter, but at a party Glad saw me and bewitched me. She made the initial move by giving me a little peck, I gave her one back, and it went from there.”

Brian’s life, as simple and honest as it was, became a troubled one during his time as an Agriculture Manager for food processing company J.Wattie Canneries.

“I had a mental breakdown five years after being promoted into top management. The practical part was no problem but office proecdures were not easy and where I struggled to handle it. Eventually, nature took its course. I went off work, total depression,l was non active for about eight or nine months. After a year, I went back and was able to do the job until I retired. My wife was patient, and staunch, and she stood by me. She handled it very well as me, a non functioning person, stayed in bed most of the he time. My emploer was very supportive throughout”

Brian’s battle against depression was made more difficult by having no medical support.

“My own GP didn’t recognise it as depression. He saw what I was experiencing in as a weakness, not an illness. I believe it was natures way to blot things out, to not function.”

Throughout our conversation, Brian was respectful and honest, especially when posed with the question of whether he had entertained suicidal thoughts.

“I’ve had black thoughts in life, I’ve considered ending it and had it all worked out. What stopped me was family, I think about my family they are the most important thing for me. I’ve got 8 grand children and a couple of great grandchildren, and my whole life is family focused, and I’m so proud.”

His advice to the rest of us?

“Be honest and respect other people. I’m starting to understand that we are never too old to learn. There are are always two sides, and whether they’re right or wrong respect for other people is so important.”