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Carr, Clyde Leonard

by Colin Brown


Clyde Leonard Carr was born in Ponsonby, Auckland, on 14 January 1886, the son of Thomas Goodwill Carr, a Methodist minister, and his wife, Matilda Frame Thorne. He grew up to be a tall, lean, gangling fellow who, after early forays into commerce and the ministries of two Protestant churches, became one of New Zealand's longest-serving and most eccentric members of Parliament.

Clyde attended primary schools in Pukekohe, Hutt Valley, Rangiora and Richmond, then spent four years at Nelson College. He later took courses at the university colleges of Auckland, Victoria and Canterbury but did not complete a degree. After leaving secondary school in 1902, he was employed by the Bank of New South Wales for four years, a time he later described as 'penal servitude', and then spent a year as clerk and cashier in a softgoods store.

A change of occupation came in 1908 when Carr became a Methodist home missionary at Ashhurst. He attended the Methodist theological college in Auckland from 1909 to 1911, then served as a probationary minister at Kilbirnie (1912), Island Bay (1913) and Pohangina–Ashhurst (1914). In 1909 the Methodist conference had selected him for foreign mission service, and in 1915, after ordination, he undertook missionary work among Indians in Fiji. On 12 August 1915, at Suva, he married Laurel (Laurie) Louise Gascoigne, a schoolteacher; they were to have a son and daughter, and later adopted another son. Carr's marrying while on probation and without permission may have prevented him from pursuing further training in India. In January 1916 he resigned from the Methodist ministry, and by June he had become the Congregationalist minister at Newton, Auckland. He was chairman of the Auckland district of the Congregational Union of New Zealand in 1917–18, and of its Canterbury counterpart in 1920.

After a brief ministry at Maungaturoto in 1919, Carr moved to Linwood, Christchurch, in November that year. Initially his ministry there was well received and his ability as a preacher appreciated, but during 1923 tensions appeared; several office-holders resigned and ceased attending services. Eventually, in February 1924, Carr resigned, explaining that his preaching of a 'social gospel' had generated opposition, but concerns about his personal conduct may also have contributed.

Clyde Carr had by this time joined the New Zealand Labour Party and was active in local body affairs: from 1923 to 1928 he was a member of the Christchurch City Council and the North Canterbury Hospital Board. In 1925 he unsuccessfully sought Labour's nomination for the Kaiapoi, Riccarton, and Ellesmere seats. During these years he worked in the publishing trade as an editorial assistant at Whitcombe and Tombs, then as an editor for Andrews, Baty and Company. In 1925 he won the Macmillan Brown essay prize at Canterbury College. He also served as a radio announcer, presenting children's song services on 3YA, and continued some preaching. At the 1928 general election, in an upset result in Timaru, Carr defeated Reform's F. J. Rolleston, a widely respected local lawyer who was attorney general and minister of justice. Perhaps Rolleston and his backers were complacent: Carr began his campaign on 3 October, Rolleston not until the 23rd. Carr was to hold the Timaru seat for the next 33 years.

During his long but largely undistinguished parliamentary career, Carr displayed a special interest in education. A member of the Education Committee for 32 years, and chairman for 15, he also represented local MPs on the Canterbury University College Council (1937–48) and the Canterbury Agricultural College Board of Governors (1948–50). He served as the Labour Party's vice president in 1933–34 and president in 1936–37. After Labour's victory in 1935, Carr and his local electorate committee felt that he deserved a cabinet post. However, he was on the left of the party on monetary issues, and his support for John A. Lee put him at odds with the leadership. After Prime Minister M. J. Savage's death in 1940 Carr was nominated as his successor, but received only 3 votes against 33 for Peter Fraser and 12 for D. G. McMillan. He served as chairman of committees and deputy speaker from 1947 to 1949, but when Labour returned to power in 1957 he failed to regain these posts or to secure election to cabinet.

Clyde Carr's remarkable hold on the Timaru seat was based on his skills as orator and campaigner, together with a well-deserved reputation for attention to local issues and readiness to help constituents whatever their political affiliation. His insistence on retaining the title 'Reverend' may also have helped create an image of moderation and respectability. As Carr aged, however, personal eccentricities obtruded: independence of mind became unpredictability, ready speech turned into garrulity. He appeared impecunious, once darned his socks during a parliamentary debate, and often slept overnight in his office, even cooking meals there. Whiffs of scandal about his private life circulated.

Fond of poetry and apt at quoting it, Carr wrote verse in a variety of styles, including dance-band lyrics and low-brow humorous verse. He contributed to Australian and New Zealand journals, and published a collection, Poems, in 1944. In 1935–36 he had prepared a series of biographical sketches of MPs, initially for the New Zealand Radio Record; they were published as Politicalities (1936).

Laurie Carr was as idiosyncratic as her husband. Privately claiming to have been born an atheist, she read rationalist publications, baited those who quoted the Bible, and seems to have influenced her husband's move to a cheerful, thinly disguised agnosticism. It is said that she did not find Timaru a friendly place, but she supported her husband and the Labour Party loyally. After her death in April 1961 Clyde Carr moved to Christchurch. He resigned his parliamentary seat in May, and died there on 18 September 1962, survived by his children.

Links and sources


    Obit. Press. 19 Sept. 1962: 14

    Obit. Timaru Herald. 19 Sept. 1962

How to cite this page:

Colin Brown. 'Carr, Clyde Leonard', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)