Wellington Rowing Club volunteer Laurie Counsell has been recognised for services to rowing in the New Year's Honours List.
In 1991, Laurie Counsell dropped his third former (Year 9) son Kevin off at Wellington Rowing Club for his first training session.
More than thirty years later, Kevin is no longer rowing but Laurie is still going strong at the club, and was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for his services to rowing in the 2024 New Year’s Honours List.
“I remember Kevin and I walking into the sheds one Sunday and being welcomed with the comment that ‘we are always looking for helpers’. I have always believed in supporting my kids in their chosen sport, and having rowed myself at secondary school, I agreed to help out. Little did I know that more than 30 years later I would still be there!”
Over the years Laurie has served on the board and executive of the Wellington Rowing Club in various capacities, including stints as Club Captain (1996-2004), Vice President (2005-2008), and President (2008-2010), and has served as Treasurer of the Wellington Rowing Association since 2008.
Laurie getting ready for yet another maintenance session outside Wellington Rowing Club.
“Laurie is a very humble man and tends to avoid the limelight,” says WRC President Chris Fry.
“He takes on these roles through a love of the club, the sport, and his community, and has devoted an enormous amount of his spare time and energy to ensure that rowing remains an accessible, affordable and enjoyable option for Wellingtonians of all backgrounds.”
WRC Life Member and Masters rower Nina Brown agrees.
“Laurie has a well-deserved reputation as a fantastic ‘giving’ individual. His passion for rowing has been evident for many years, and he has given generously of his time and expertise to help others develop their skills and excel in the sport. His contributions to the sport and his community are truly remarkable.”
Laurie has led a range of initiatives at both the WRC and WRA over the years, most recently working with Waka Kotahi on a major project to build a dedicated rowing facility for the combined use of all Wellington clubs on Wellington’s Petone foreshore.
“I’m pleased to have been involved in the new Petone building. Due to open in late February, this building, with its state-of-the-art racking system, will be a real showpiece for Wellington rowing,” Laurie says.
But alongside the big jobs, Laurie has spent countless weekends over the past few decades carrying out basic maintenance at the club.
“Even before I knew what rust was, I remember Laurie every Sunday cleaning out Wellington harbour’s saltwater from the coaching boat motors in these massive old 40-gallon drums out the front of the club,” says former Star Boating Club and Victoria University Rowing Club president Rees Ward.
“He was always there repairing hull damage and even the club facade itself. I recall some sort of panel being ripped off the clubroom in a Wellington gale one day, and Laurie sorting out scaffolding and clambering up there to fix it.
“I never rowed for Wellington RC – they’re Star’s closest and great neighbours – but other clubs were always envious of having a volunteer who was as passionate and devoted as Laurie.”
Laurie says he was surprised and honoured to receive the award.
“The work I have done over the years has not been in isolation. There are many people who have been alongside me in the 30-odd years I have been involved in Wellington rowing, and this award is as much for their work and support of me in everything I have done.
“A club is only as good as the people who support it, and with the great band of volunteers our club and the Wellington Rowing Association has, I can only see it going from strength to strength in the future.
“I feel privileged to have been a part of it.”
Andrew Smith is a keen Masters rower based in Wellington. A member of Wellington Rowing Club off and on since 2000, he spends more time on the erg than the water, trying to convince himself he's still young.