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OBITUARY – Ray Parr

By J B Phillips

When it comes to solid rugby forwards Ray (“Rocky”) Parr, one of the “Lion Tamers” at Spriggens Park in 1966, takes a power of beating.

The 89-year-old former Maori All Back who died last week, was a front row prop in the Wanganui-King Country combined side that upset the British Isles 12-6 54 years ago

Parr, born in Tokomaru in Horowhenua, was a sound boxer in his young days and hence the nick name of “Rocky” after world heavyweight champion Rocky Maciano.

But it was rugby that Ray Parr was to make his sporting mark in and it was from his homes around Raetihi that the former forester, farmer and hotelier repped for King Country and later coached for Wanganui.

The Ruapehu sub-union had switched to King Country in 1920 and returned 50 years later in 1970 and thus Parr played his 60 odd rep matches in the maroon and gold colours between 1955 and 1966.

He made his provincial debut as a 25-year-old loose forward against South Auckland, which changed its name to Counties the same year (1955), and also in the Rams side for the first time that day was a promising teenager – Colin (“Pinetree”) Meads.

By coincident the other world famous Meads Brother, Stan, played his last game for King Country, against Taranaki in 1966, in the same match that was the swan song for Ray Parr’s rep career.

The Meads Brothers, of course, played key roles in helping the combined side upset the Lions before 17,000 delighted fans in Wanganui in what was rated as one of the biggest boil-overs in NZ rugby history.

For Parr, whose playing career was cut short when struck by a falling dead tree, a highlight was  that the Northern Wanganui area provided seven players to the team that toppled the Lions – the Waiouru trio of Jim Sowter, Jim Redward and Peter Johns, Ohakune winger Rangi Paki, Raetihi second five John McIlroy, Ohakune flanker Maurice Rush and himself in the front row.

The strong front three were all Maori All Blacks – Ray Parr, Howard Paiaka and hooker Bill Wordley

Four years after the great victory the Ruapehu clubs returned from King Country to the ranks of the Wanganui union.

It was fitting that Parr should play against the Lions because he had been a reserve for the 1956 and 1965 fixtures against the Springboks.

Parr, who converted from a loose forward to a front row prop, was also a handy goal kicker who use to travel by train from Ohakune to Te Kuiti or Taumarunui for rep trainings and matches.

Although restricted because if his injury in the bush Parr filled-in occasionally for Raetihi until the age of 45 and was also a top flight axeman,with Government House in Wellington as one of his notable clients for long-burning hot native firewood.

He also operated the Raetihi Hotel between 1984-1993 before moving to Wanganui East for “retirement” in 1993 eith his wife Iris.

Ray Parr, who had also been a quality cricket player in his youth, was elected a life member of the Ruapehu Rugby and Sports Club.

He enjoyed some success as a Wanganui rugby selector along with future  All Black coach JJ Steward and Ron McPhun in 1970-71 and with McPhun and Brian Murphy in 1972.

The 1970 reps lifted the Bruce Steel Cup for the first time (3-0 away v Manawatu) and drew with Taranaki 8-all on Queen;s Birthday and 14-all away v North Auckland.

There were also two draws in 1971 – 9-all v visiting Wellington and 11-all away v Marlborough – and a 12-3 Queen’s Birthday win over Taranaki.

In 1972 there was a rare 21-19 Anzac Day victory over Taranaki, a 6-4 home win v Wellington and a 15-14 success v NZ Services.

There was a huge attendance at the funeral of Ray Parr in Raetihi on Monday. He is survived by sons Larry, Les and Bruce.

Stan Meads, the 81-year-old former King Country rep and 30-cap All Black (1961-66), who played numerous provincial games with Ray, was one of the pall bearers as was Ruapehu’s long serving NZ Heartland captain Peter Rowe.

The Wanganui representation at the funeral also included union chairman Jeff Phillips and CEO Bridget Belsham.