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Obituary - Ross Finlayson, NZTBA President 1989-1992

President Ross Finlayson (centre) photographed in 1990 with the Council and Executive staff in the Boardroom of the newly opened NZTBA office building at Ellerslie Racecourse.

President Ross Finlayson (centre) photographed in 1990 with the Council and Executive staff in the Boardroom of the newly opened NZTBA office building at Ellerslie Racecourse.
In an expression uniquely Kiwi, it was said at the funeral of former New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders president Ross Finlayson that a mighty totara had fallen.
Residents of Auckland's North Shore, it would seem, would have been more inclined to liken him to Tane Mahuta, Lord of the Forest.

Whereas the giant kauri Tane Mahuta has acquired his iconic status over some 1250 years, Ross Finlayson had but 69 years at his disposal to make his stamp on New Zealand trade, commerce, sport, politics, the bloodstock and livestock industries and charitable fund raising activities.

He emerged on the thoroughbred scene in the 1970s, setting up Field House Stud in partnership with David Benjamin and making the bold move launching the stud career of VRC Derby winner Grosvenor.

His industry involvement continued after the dissolvement of this partnership through links with Highview and Te Rapa Studs and progression to administration.

After serving on the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders Council he became its president in 1989 and held office for four years. During the time on the NZTBA Council he was especially proactive in streamlining the size of the council (19 in 1984), taking a global approach to marketing and supporting the relocation of both the national sales venue and NZTBA headquarters from Wellington to Auckland.

Significantly it was Finlayson, in his role of association president, who played host when the Queen, as patron, officially opened the new NZTBA office building on Ellerslie racecourse.

However, to many of the thousand odd people who attended the celebration of his life at ASB Stadium on September 3, his foray into the world of thoroughbreds was merely just another "Rosco" activity. There were so many others to reminisce about.

There was of course the ASB Stadium itself. If Roscoe hadn't personally gone out and raised most of the millions it would never have been built.

Minister for Trade Murray McCully was there to remember a mate, who along with wife of 42 years Joan, had worked so hard to keep the National Party to the fore on The Shore. Bruce Gaffikin was there to remind Kiwis at large of a debt of gratitude to the man who single handedly had negotiated the biggest overseas sales of New Zealand meat in places like Russia, Iraq and Iran.

There was family who remembered his affection, guidance, support and other things, too. Things like the booming voice which matched his ample frame, the laughter, a liking for sauvignon blanc and silky reds along with conversation peppered with the more than the occasional expletive.

One-time business adversary and longtime friend Bruce Gaffikin tellingly took a step back to 1969 to the days of the Cold War, to days when Britain no longer felt duty bound to buy our primary produce. To the day when Rosco, as he was affectionaltey known by so many, became a national hero.

Three days previously he had flown into Moscow to make a lone and ground-breaking bid to sell our meat surpluses to the Ruskies. On arrival and after a three-hour battle through customs, he was taken to the third floor of the National Hotel – the floor exclusively used to accommodate foreign vistors.

Facilties, including a 5ft.6in bed in which to park his bulky 6ft 2in frame and a rusty bath, were austere in the extreme. Meals nauseatingly worse. For three days he was subjected to these conditions before the meeting with the chief Russian negotiator was finally called.

Business, he was informed, was to be done through an interpreter. Before business got underway Rosco told the interpreter he had a message for his Russian counterpart which was to be faithfully relayed.

Apparently the Rosco style of diplomacy went along these lines:
"Tell him I'm bloody sick of this bloody disgraceful treatment and unless he doesn't bloody well do something about it I will be on the next bloody plane home."

A bewildered interpreter responded by asking what this word bloody meant. At that point the Russsian negotiator interrupted and in very good English inquired: "And what is your name?"

"Ross," boomed Rosco.

"Well Mr Ross," said the Russian, "I think you are the sort of man we can do business with."

Signing off on New Zealand's biggest single meat deal became no more than a formality. A Kiwi marketing legend was born.

- David Bradford


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