by Chris Tobin
An elderly woman in Timaru is keeping a close watch on the World Cup in Japan and on one player in particular.
The player is All Black captain Kieran Read.
Magdalene Harper (92) has a special reason for being especially focused on him.
Read is her grandson.
“I feel proud. I’m very proud of him,’ Mrs Harper, who is probably Read’s No1 fan, said at her Timaru home last week.
As well as family pictures, images of Read adorn several walls at her home and Mrs Harper is steadily adding to her collection of scrapbooks chronicling his career.
Having started in 2003 she is on her 23rd scrapbook.
Each scrapbook has been meticulously collated and dated.
They are filled with clippings from numerous newspapers and magazines.
“I rang him the other day before the game against the Springboks and wished him all the best.”
Mrs Harper watched the nail-biting match and was impressed by the physical size of the South Africans and delighted when the All Blacks won.
“The worst one’s gone now; they’re all saying that. This match was going to be the toughest one.”
Mrs Harper would love to be in Japan for the All Blacks games. Health issues prevented this although other family members are there.
“It’s a funny feeling; they’re over there and I’m not.”
Family man…Mrs Harper with a favourite photo of Kieran Read, with his children. PHOTO: CHRIS TOBINEver since Read showed promise first as a cricketer growing up at Papakura in Auckland, Mrs Harper and her late husband, Norman, followed his progress.
Mr Harper thought Read would have been a New Zealand representative cricketer, such was his early prowess in this game.
But rugby won out.
“From the very beginning we thought he’d do well and he had a lot of coaching when he was younger.
“He doesn’t have a lot to say. He’s not a talker. He might be when he’s out on the field but not usually.
“Being captain there’s pressure on him all the time. No-one knows how hard they work, especially the captain.
“I suppose they’ve got helpers but everything has to be done right.”
Read and his two brothers regularly spent holidays in Timaru.
Mrs Harper introduced him to members of the Ashbury Croquet Club during one visit and on another occasion the All Blacks captain, his wife and three children spent a week at her home while she was away.
“They went to Caroline Bay with his family but couldn’t get a rest, so they took the kids to the Scenic Reserve where it was quieter.”
Mrs Harper grew up in Timaru and has lived in the town her entire life, apart from a year in Invercargill.
Her father was a Greek immigrant and her parents operated a popular restaurant in Stafford St, where Mrs Harper worked after leaving school.
She and Norman, a World War 2 veteran and plasterer, who came from Invercargill, married at the Bank St Methodist Church in Timaru. They had six children, three girls and three boys.
Read’s mother Marilyn is the oldest girl and married Terry Read, a surveyor.
Mrs Harper, the only one of Read’s grandparents still alive, has numerous grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
After their great start against the Springboks, the All Blacks played a pool match against Canada overnight and have two others, against Namibia and Italy, before crunch games later this month.
Mrs Harper will be watching them all.
Every time Read played a test or a big match she has given him a “good-luck” call. She does it still, although not so regularly.
But should the All Blacks make the World Cup final on Saturday, November 2, at Yokohama Stadium, Mrs Harper will again be on the phone.
“He’s determined they [the All Blacks] are going to be there.”
If they are, she’ll be in front of her TV in Timaru cheering on her famous grandson and, all going well, to his third World Cup success.
“I hope they will win. I think they will,” she said, smiling.