Page 1: Biography
Brash, Thomas Cuddie
Dairy factory manager, dairy board administrator, Presbyterian layman
This biography, written by Ian W. Fraser, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
Thomas Cuddie Brash was the son of William Brash and his wife, Jane (Jeanie) Parkinson Cuddie, descendants of Scottish settlers in Dunedin. He was born on 29 November 1874 at Saddle Hill, near Dunedin. Later the Brashes bought Harwood, a farm of 400 acres at Mataura Island, Southland. Thomas went to a small school near Yeovil, started after his parents put pressure on the Southland Education Board. He had no formal education after primary school.
At 15 Thomas became boilerman at the dairy factory of his uncles, James and Richard Cuddie, at Mosgiel. He lived in two rooms at the factory. Terribly lonely, he took to fast bike rides and soon met other riders, from whom he heard about the Taieri Ramblers' Cycling Club. He entered their races, and his instant successes made him well known.
In 1895 Brash became first assistant manager at the Wyndham dairy factory, Southland, and learnt cheese-making. He later consulted a dairy expert, John Sawers, about his career, and through him successfully applied for the position of manager of the Tōtara Flat dairy factory, near Reefton. The four directors who met Brash off the train at the Tōtara Flat station were shocked to see such a young man. They said that managing a factory on the West Coast was very difficult, and gave him the chance to withdraw. They also complained that the fern growing wild gave the butter a sour taste. Brash pointed out that this was unlikely, as cows do not eat fern: the true cause was probably dirty equipment. They walked to the factory where, with his penknife, Brash scraped slime from the inside of the churn and elsewhere. The staff spent three months cleaning the factory till it was spotless, and only then began making butter; it came out clean, with no sour taste, and was immediately popular.
Brash became manager of dairy factories at Maketawa (1898), Waverley (1903) and Kairanga, insisting on meticulous cleanliness. He was also a dairy inspector from 1901 to 1903. While at Waverley he studied accountancy, passed his examinations, and became a registered accountant in 1911.
Brash joined the National Dairy Association of New Zealand in 1910 as an assistant secretary. In 1919 he became the association's representative in London and on his return to New Zealand in 1921 was made secretary. A strong promoter of New Zealand dairy produce in Britain, Brash was one of the leading advocates for the establishment of the New Zealand Dairy Produce Control Board (now known as the New Zealand Dairy Board). When this first met on 31 January 1924, he was appointed secretary and chief executive, positions he was to hold for the next 16 years. He was involved in the establishment of the Dairy Research Institute at Massey Agricultural College, was a director and chairman of the company formed to produce salt at Lake Grassmere, and was made a life member of Federated Farmers of New Zealand.
Brash had married Margaret Henrietta Allan at her parents' home at Wyndham on 17 July 1901; they had two daughters and two sons. In 1915 Brash went to Nelson to advise Margaret's father, who had moved there for the sake of his health, on the business side of apple-growing. While there he himself bought land for an orchard, which he left to others to develop and manage. His son, Jim, acted as manager for many years. In 1924 Brash's knowledge of export controls and marketing led to his election as president of the New Zealand Fruitgrowers' Federation, an office he held for 22 years.
While Brash was at Tōtara Flat in the late 1890s, he was rebuked by the Presbyterian minister, David Anderson, for his lack of faith and indulgence in drinking, swearing and gambling. Taking this rebuke very seriously, he began to attend church regularly and in time became one of the most prominent laymen in the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand. A Bible class leader and twice president of the Bible Class Union, he was an elder for 51 years, a church property trustee for 37 years and chairman of the trustees for 12 years. He chaired the Finance Committee, was a keen supporter of the ecumenical movement, acted as convener of the Youth of the Church Committee in 1918 and in the 1940s was deeply involved in the Campaign for Christian Order. He was the second layman to be elected moderator of the General Assembly (1944). He attended the meeting of churches adhering to the Presbyterian system at Lausanne in 1920, and in 1948 was in Amsterdam for the inaugural meeting of the World Council of Churches, of which his son Alan later became deputy general secretary.
Towards the end of Brash's life he and his wife were troubled by ill health and lived in a large house in Christchurch with their elder daughter, Pearl Bennett, and her husband. Brash died there on 19 January 1957, survived by his wife and their children.
Thomas Brash was noted for his achievements in the dairy industry and in fruitgrowing. He, however, regarded his service to the Presbyterian church as more important. He was respected and honoured by his contemporaries as a man of great integrity and ability who was well liked by all who knew him.