Page 1: Early life and schooling
Muldoon, Robert David
Accountant, politician, prime minister
This biography, written by Barry Gustafson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2010.
Robert David Muldoon (known as Rob or Bob) was the only son of James Henry Muldoon, a government inspector, and his wife, Amie Rusha Browne. He was born in Auckland on 25 September 1921. His paternal grandfather, James Henry Muldoon (senior), was a Methodist evangelist and social worker in one of Auckland’s poorest working-class areas. His maternal grandmother, Jerusha (Rusha) Browne, brought up three children alone after being deserted by her husband. Her admiration for the Liberal and then Labour parties was very evident to her grandson, who spent many hours in her company during his youth.
When Rob Muldoon was seven his father, a staff sergeant who served in Egypt and Europe for over three years during the First World War, entered the Point Chevalier psychiatric hospital. He remained there until his death in 1946. Rob was told that his father became partially paralysed and lost his memory and the power of speech because of post-war psychosis and the stress of business failure – but he was also suffering from syphilis.
Rob’s mother worked long hours making furniture covers to support herself and her son and pay off the mortgage on a small house at Western Springs. When Rob was five, a pointed dowel on the front gate pierced his cheek, breaking the muscle and leaving him with a distinctive scar and lopsided smile.
Rob went to Mt Albert Primary and Kōwhai Intermediate Schools before winning a Rawlings scholarship to Mt Albert Grammar School, which he attended from 1933 to 1936. Apart from usually being near the top of the class in English, he did not have a particularly distinguished academic record, despite achieving an exceptionally high non-verbal intelligence test score in the fifth form.
Rob matriculated in his fourth year but lack of funds removed any possibility of his going to university. He worked first as an office boy at Fletcher Construction, and then took a similar post at the Auckland Electric Power Board. In his spare time he was active in the Mt Albert Baptist Bible class and the YMCA, and studied accountancy through Hemingway’s correspondence courses.