Only 39 days ago in the very arena where today we will celebrate and sadly farewell Waikato and New Zealand sporting icon Monica Leggat, I had the privilege on behalf of Sport Waikato, and all associated with Waikato Sport - especially Monica’s beloved sport of netball - to read the citation of the 2018 Hare Puke Leadership in Sport Award recipient to join the likes of Brian and Simon Perry, Sir Colin Meads, Mark O’Callaghan and Alan Livingston at the 2018 Brian Perry Waikato Regional Sports Awards held at Claudelands Event Centre, Hamilton on Friday 1st February last month.

The award was so appropriate (and unanimous by the three adjudicators, John Parker, Murray Gutry and myself) … Leadership in Sport

I began by saying…

“In Waikato sport this person’s name is revered.
For more than 70 years today’s Hare Puke Leadership in Sport recipient has done just that …. lead!”

I think respectfully to the Leggat family who did a magnificent job in coercing Mons to turn up on that humid Waikato evening – Mons had a feeling she may be getting more than another deserving floral arrangement!

She turned to the family saying “This could be me”. Her sharp mind and beautiful intuition had realised well ahead of my and Mons great friend, Sport Waikato’s Roseanne Murray’s cunning plan that something was up! It was Waikato sports turn to acknowledge this beautiful lady after so many deserving accolades over the years from the likes of her beloved Hamilton City Netball Centre, Netball Waikato Centre, Waikato BOP Netball, Netball NZ, Wintec, the Halberg Foundation and Sport NZ. With Ian and children Anne, Peter and Denise close by, Monica Leggat was soon to be awarded the 2018 Hare Puke Leadership in Sport Award.

I went on to say in my citation on stage without naming Mons “…authentic, humble and genuine – throw in dedicated and passionate – words that easily flow out when I think of this person…”

Probably at this point – I made reference deliberately for the first time “… She …”

The 560 strong audience began to speculate (correctly); our cameras slowly moved towards the Leggat table. I paused in my address to look at the table. I saw beautiful Mons - Waikato sports matriarch - bow her head. Another sign of humility, a sign of gracefulness, a sign of class. I then went on to mention – “…. that I’m probably going to cop it now…” to which point Mons raised her head, flashed her smile nodding her head pointing at me. I knew then a Mons conversation was looming!

But it was what followed after the acknowledgment that those present – all 560 at the Brian Perry Waikato Regional Sports Awards on Friday 1st February, only 39 days ago, will never ever forget. Considering Mons recent health issues and after consultation with the family, MC and the voice of New Zealand sport, Nigel Yalden and I decided with the Puke whaanau to walk down from the stage to the table and present the Hare Puke Leadership in Sport award – the beautifully carved Toki Poutangata. Our rationale or plan of attack – Nigel have a chat to Mons. Nigel proceeds to walk over, all 560 on their feet, many in tears and walks over to his great friend. Mons walks forward to Nigel and grabs the microphone off our MC then looks at me WITH THAT LOOK and quietly says – “… Matthew you and I need to and will talk after this ...!”

Knowing I’m in trouble, I slipped back to my seat and said to Sport Waikato Chairman, Mark McCabe – “this will be very special”. What followed was one of the most beautifully structured, eloquent, articulated speeches we have all ever witnessed. Early years in Nelson. To her special time in education as a teacher and leader at Fairfield College. To the netball centres, specifically the Hamilton Netball Centre, Netball Waikato, Waikato BOP Netball, Netball NZ, the players, the teams, coaches, officials, volunteers. Her acknowledgement and overwhelming pride of receiving the award with the name of her special friend associated with it – Hare Puke. Her immense pride in becoming the first female to justifiably win this award since its inception in 2011.

Nigel then moves closer to test if Mons was in summarising mode – no words required – SIMPLY a Mons look and raised hand to Nigel – “… I’m just warming up…!”

Then Mons talked with pride about the organisations that she had a close association with – the prestigious honorary degree from Wintec, the close relationship with Sport Waikato and governance roles with Trust Waikato, Hospice Waikato and more recently the Waikato Institute of Leisure and Sports Studies.

Beautiful structured delivery, Monica Leggat had the audience of 560 in the palm of her hand and Nigel, like me, had proceeded to take his seat!

The many in that audience 39 days ago who knew Mons were smiling knowing they were been treated to another Monica Leggat classic – then reflecting with a sense of sadness that this might be the last time they hear this Waikato sporting leader in full flight. Those few in the audience who never knew Monica Leggat were astounded by the outstanding delivery and structure of her acceptance speech. Absolutely flawless!

Without any notes, totally unscripted covering the early years, education, netball and sport, Monica zoned on her most precious gift and love – her family. Her pride and love for her beautiful family so visible. To Ian, Anne, Peter and Denise and your families, thank you so much for sharing Mons with us all. We were very lucky to be touched and influenced by Monica, but we also reflect with sadness of your grief where you have lost a wife, a mother and of course grand-mons to her four grandchildren.

I lost my Mum two years ago next month; my heart (our hearts) go out to you Ian and your family as you cope with your grief that I’m sure over time - and it will take time - will be balanced by many beautiful memories, learnings and laughter that we all associate with when we think of Mons.

Whenever I saw Mons in these last two years – she would come over to me and say – “…how are you Matthew …” Mons would then give me a hug. Mons was checking in on me as only mothers do.

Mons thank you for the memories and thank you for giving us the most precious gift of all – your time.

Rest in peace.

View the video of Mons acceptance speech here

Sport Waikato CEO Matthew Cooper’s tribute to Monica Leggat

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