McKENZIE, Sir John Robert Hugh, K.B.E.
Importer and philanthropist.
A new biography of McKenzie, John Robert Hugh appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
McKenzie was born at Yarrawalla, Victoria, on 5 August 1876, the son of Hugh McKenzie, a Victorian Customs official, and Susan, née Smiley. He was educated in Melbourne, where at 14 he entered business in Jacob Hart and Co. McKenzie served in the Boer War with the 3rd Victorian Bushmen, and in 1900 established his own business as a fancy goods importer, having branches in Melbourne and Hobart. He moved to Christchurch in 1903, where he opened his first store and laid the foundation for his later Dominion-wide chain. On 24 July 1918, at the Presbyterian Church, Roseneath, Wellington, McKenzie married Annie May, daughter of Samuel Henry Wrigley, of Wellington, by whom he had two sons.
In 1927 he bought the Roydon Lodge property near Christchurch, and established there a famous trotting stud. He served on the board of the New Zealand Trotting Association (1925–50) and headed the trotting owners' list on five occasions. In 1938 he founded the “McKenzie Youth Education Trust” (£10,000), “for the betterment, education, or physical development” of boys in poor circumstances in Wellington and Christchurch, the fund being administered by the local Rotary clubs. In 1953 he increased this to £30,000, extending its application to Auckland and Dunedin, and in 1954, when the trust had distributed nearly £50,000, he increased the fund by £1,000,000. He gave 100,000 in 1940 to establish a trust to aid disabled war veterans, the Plunket Society, children in need of special vocational training or medical treatment, and any other charitable or educational purposes selected by the trustees. He later endowed two scholarships in memory of his son who was killed in an air crash, and built the “Don McKenzie Memorial Hall” at Sockburn. McKenzie was created K.B.E. in 1950, and died while on a visit to London on 26 August 1955.
It will probably never be known exactly how much money Sir John McKenzie gave away during his lifetime; the “Crichton Cobbers' Club”, Christchurch, received £10,000; and many RSA, Rotary, and boys' clubs received substantial gifts, as well as kindergartens. Such grants seldom had any publicity; Sir John preferred anonymity.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Evening Post, 27 Aug 1955 (Obit)
- Press (Christ-church), 29 Aug 1955 (Obit).