CCNZ Life Member Valerie Davidson passed away in Invercargill on 30 November at 84 years of age.
CCNZ Chief Executive Peter Silcock said Ms Davidson had made a huge contribution to the industry throughout her life, and he remembered her as a lively person with a good sense of humour from the times he had met her.
"Valerie was always pretty sharp and interested in what was going on. She clearly enjoyed the industry and it was a big part of her life.
"She attended awards evenings in Southland and Otago on a regular basis, even in recent years. She was a very enthusiastic supporter of the organisation, and had a great relationship with contractors across New Zealand, particularly across Southland and Otago."
Ms Davidson was a longstanding CCNZ Southland Branch Secretary. In addition to her role, she regularly contributed articles to Contractor Magazine, many of which are still available online through Contractor Magazine's digital subscription.
She was perhaps best known nationally for writing the book No Degree for Experience, a 233-page history of the Southland branch of the New Zealand Contractors Federation spanning the years from 1953-2003, and a history of the local contractors and contracting industry from 1900-2003. CCNZ National Office still has some copies available. If you are interested in obtaining a copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Backroom work brings rewards
First published in the November 2006 edition of Contractor Magazine. Re-published with permission.
Colin and Valerie Davidson’s remarkable half-century of working for their fellow contractors has seen them receive five life memberships. BY GAVIN RILEY
When Valerie Davidson received life membership of the Contractors’ Federation at the recent annual conference in Queenstown, the award marked the culmination of half a century of husband-and-wife service to the contracting industry.
Colin Davidson began this remarkable opus by joining the federation’s Southland branch in the 1950s and Valerie brought it to a close when she retired as branch secretary a few months ago.
For sheer longevity the Davidsons’ toil on behalf of their fellow contractors is unmatched in the industry and is reflected in the couple’s astonishing total of five life memberships – three for Colin, two for Valerie – awarded over a period of 30 years. Both have been honoured by the Contractors’ Federation at branch and national level, and Colin is also a life member of the Rural and Associated Contractors’ Federation for his 20 years’ work from the 1960s in the former agricultural contractors’ group.
Curiously, Colin received his federation branch and national awards within weeks of each other in 1983, and now Valerie has followed suit 23 years later.
He admits to feeling “pretty proud” when his wife’s federation life membership was announced in Queenstown.
“She’d put in a lot of work for the branch, and indirectly for the federation, and it was just lovely to have her recognised like that. For both of us, having worked together over the years and then finishing up with the same awards, it was good.”
Colin was actually born in Queenstown, 73 years ago, though much of his schooling was in Invercargill. He began his working life on farms before becoming an agricultural contractor in 1956 at the age of 23. Two years later, Davidson Contracting Co Ltd, a partnership between Colin and his brother Graeme, began a 26-year association with the Lands and Survey Department by undertaking ploughing and cultivation contracts.
Although the brothers drove their Allis Chalmers WD tractor round the clock during some seasons, Colin made time to help his fellow contractors at both local and national level. He was elected to the Southland branch executive in 1960, was chairman from 1961-63, chairman of the branch agricultural section from 1970-82, inaugural chairman of the Contractors’ Federation agricultural contractors’ group from 1967-69, chairman again from 1975-77 (remaining on the executive till 1988), and a member of the federation’s national executive from 1975-82, serving on the personnel training and safety, and construct by contract committees.
Colin’s most significant achievement during this period was to devise an escalation formula for use in contracts let by the Lands and Survey, Forest Service and Maori Affairs departments.
When Colin was awarded federation life membership at the 1983 conference in Dunedin, former federation president Ian MacDonald, an agricultural contractor, said the success of the escalation formula meant Colin was “literally worth his weight in gold” to agricultural contractors. And future federation president Bryan Murray said the Davidson business was known throughout the country as an innovator.
Despite his busy life, or possibly because of it, Colin began flying in 1969, gained his private pilot licence the following year, and bought a Cessna 150 (later replaced by a 172) to fly to strip and paddock work and transport workers and food to job sites.
Valerie, though busy raising two sons and running the administrative side of Davidson Contracting Co, also gained her pilot licence and took over flying the Cessna for the next 12 years (until it was sold) after Colin was “grounded” in 1974 for health reasons.
In 1983 Colin and Graeme Davidson decided to close their agricultural-contracting business and pursue separate interests, mainly because of a gradual phasing out of Lands and Survey work as more and more farms were put out to settlement.
Colin then divided his time between running a small farm and building up an engineering business in Dipton, manufacturing and refurbishing agricultural and contracting machinery and parts. The farm was sold in 1989 and the engineering company in 2001, after which Colin began working part-time for an engineering business specialising in heavy-industrial and general-jobbing equipment.
Today he still puts in up to 20 hours a week at this job, is patron of the Southland Aero Club (having had his pilot licence restored in 1999), and is on the board of Southern Wings Ltd, an aviation college providing flying instruction and business management courses to equip students to embark on an aviation career.
There the Davidson story might have ended – but for the remarkable Valerie.
In 1992 Colin returned home from a meeting of the federation’s Southland branch, which had recently emerged from recess, and said to his wife: “We need a secretary. Would you like to have a go at it?”
Valerie recalls: “I said I’d never done anything like that and it would only be temporary. After quite a bit of talking, I acquiesced.”
Two years ago she signalled to the branch committee that she intended relinquishing the “temporary” job in the middle of this year when she turned 70 – and she was as good as her word.
The branch responded by awarding her life membership, and successfully recommending federation to similarly honour her. For Valerie Davidson had proved to be no run-of-the-mill secretary.
Some six years ago the branch decided it wanted to mark the new millennium with a history of Southland contractors and contracting. But it couldn’t find an author.
“At the next meeting the question came up again – any ideas who could write it?” Valerie says.
“I tentatively put my hand up and said I wouldn’t mind having a go. They said, you’ve got the job. So I went ahead and did it.”
With typical southern modesty she makes it sound easy, which writing a book is not. It took her three years, with four months off for moving house from Dipton to Winton. She also had to arm herself with a tape recorder and achieve a degree of computer literacy that “taught me how to do things in a hurry”. But the payoff was worth it.
“I knew I had to do a lot of research and travelling around talking to people,” Valerie says.
“What I didn’t know was I was going to meet some very, very lovely people. Some of the old contractors welcomed me with open arms, inviting me in to have a meal and talking to me for hours.”
The result was the 232-page No Degree for Experience, launched at the memorable Contractors’ Federation Invercargill conference in 2003, which also coincided with the Southland branch’s 50th birthday. Most of the people featured in the book attended the launch dinner.
Although Valerie was good at English at school, has “always had a thing about writing”, and has had several articles published in Contractor, her journalism is currently on hold as other interests take precedence. These include her two sons and five grandchildren, conducting the local Presbyterian Church and Winton Men’s Probus choirs, giving piano-duet recitals with a friend from schooldays (everything from classical music to evergreen popular songs), and participating with Colin in Southland branch functions.
The couple, who will celebrate their golden wedding next year, also enjoy walking. And they want to do more travelling, even though they have visited Australia (including Tasmania), Fiji, Norfolk Island, Britain, Ireland, Canada, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany and the United States.
“I would very much like to go to Argentina, and those sort of out-of-the-way places, and Colin would love to go to Antarctica on a boat. We’d like to explore a bit more of the world,” says Valerie, with all the enthusiasm of a Kiwi twenty-something contemplating her first OE.
Photo: Colin and Valerie Davidson at the 2006 Contractors’ Federation Queenstown conference, just after Valerie had received her life membership to accompany her branch award.