JB was born in Gore in August 1936 and contracted polio when just a few weeks old. That wasn’t the only rough start to his life because his young unmarried mother could not care for him and he immediately became a Ward of the State. But he’s also had a lucky break. The parents of Bert Munro of “World Fastest Indian” fame had seven children of their own, but as their children grew up and left home the Munro’s decided to start a second family of foster children. Between 1928 and 1936 six children were taken into full time care and at just 2 months old, JB was the youngest of those. He was a sickly wee baby from polio and he didn’t learn to walk until he was three years old.
As an 8 year old he spent eight months in Dunedin Public Hospital (Jubilee Ward) and at the Kew Home for handicapped children at Forbury Corner undergoing several operations and rehabilitation to correct the lower left leg that was damaged by polio.
After 8 months away from home this little boy travelled alone by train back to Invercargill to be met on the platform by Mrs Munro – Mum – who told him that Child Welfare had decided that the Munro’s (being 70 and 75) were too old to have him.
JB recollects “Mum said that Child Welfare had found another family for me to live with. I said I would not go and I wanted to go home. Mum said that the only way I could do that was for the Munro’s to adopt me. I said, go for it.”
JB was placed with a nice middle aged couple with no children while the elderly Munros were negotiating for the adoption.
JB Munro is known simply as JB. He explains, “Before the Munro’s adopted me, my name was John Baldwin. The adoption request went to Court and I was there on the last day and I remember the magistrate asking me some questions. Finally he said: John Baldwin, you will now be John Baldwin Munro – JB Munro.”
JB wore a half-caliper on his weak leg until he was 16 when as a teenager, he just decided not to wear it anymore.
Mr. Munro died when JB was 12, but Mrs. Munro lived until she was 92, long enough see him marry Val and to play with their two children.
JB’s “working life” included 3 years employed by Mobil Oil Invercargill, 2 years as Assistant Secretary/Youth Director of YMCA Invercargill, a year as Youth Director of YMCA Invercargill, five years as YMCA General Secretary in Dunedin. That was followed by the first five years with IHC as Southland Administrator.
It was while he was working at the YMCA that an apparently small incident occurred that would influence the course of his life. “I began to notice a young man with Down Syndrome on a Tuesday morning walk slowly up Moray place to the Library and stop outside the door to the YMCA and gaze in at a trampoline we had erected in the Foyer. On about the third week I went outside and asked him if he would like to come in and have a bounce. He did. His name was David Botting and his Dad was the Deputy Head at Otago Boys and was the President of the IHC Society. It was not long before David asked if some of his friends out at Forbury Corner could come in and have a bounce. I went out to Forbury Corner and found the Children’s Convalescent Home that I had spent months in resident when I was an 8 year old was now the IHC short stay hostel, workshop and Pre-school for intellectually handicapped children and adults. I finished up being a taxi service on Tuesday morning for those who wished to have a go on the trampoline”
Driven by his desire to make a real difference in the lives of people who are disadvantaged, he turned his hand to politics and served for six years as a City Councilor in Invercargill followed by three years as Member of Parliament for Invercargill. Whilst as Member of Parliament JB was instrumental in lobbying for and the drafting of the Disabled Person’s Community Welfare Act which was passed into law in October 1975 and set the standards for access to buildings, recognized work opportunities for people with disabilities and gave support to their families. Whilst in Parliament, he was also Chairman the New Zealand Paraplegic Trust Appeal which raised enough money to finance the 1974 Commonwealth Paraplegic games.
Retiring from politics, he went back to hands on community and social development for the disabled and devoted the next 21 years of his life to IHC New Zealand as National Director/CEO. He played a key role in organizing the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons Telethon which raised $6 million for people with disability, their families, and support agencies. He is a Life Member of IHC New Zealand
JB was there at the beginning of so many things that changed the landscape for disabled people. He played a key role in the founding of the Disabled Persons’ Assembly, the introduction of Teletext into New Zealand and the establishment of the Total Mobility Taxi Scheme. He served for seven years as President of the NZ Federation of Voluntary Welfare Organizations and oversaw the demise of hospital based institutions, replace by community care support for people with disability and their families. JB was appointed a Companion of the Queens Service Order (QSO) in 1990 for public service.
The last four years of “employment” were as Regional Coordinator of Inclusion International from whom he received the Honorary Life Membership Award in Berlin. This award was recognizing over 25 years work globally for and with people with intellectual disability. He Chaired meetings of the Inclusion International General Assembly in various countries and participated in the “Beijing Summit” of international NGO leaders and subsequent world-wide meetings which set out to construct a United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability. Seven years later, on 30 March 2007, Heads of State and Government ministers from many countries began to sign the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with a Disability.
While retired from paid employment JB has served as a Board Member on the Council for International Development; Executive Member in the Association of Former MPs; Board member and Chairman of Abbeyfield NZ and separately Abbeyfield Dunedin; Vice Chair of Rotary NZ World Community Service Ltd, President of the Rotary Club of Mosgiel, Chairman of Mosgiel Abilities Resource Centre and Home Support Services Otago, and Community representative for Taieri & Strath Taieri Primary Health Organisation. (PHO)
He served for 13 years as an Officer (Secretary, Treasurer, Vice President) ofPolio NZ Inc. (formerly Post Polio Society of New Zealand) and oversaw the preparations for the 2014 Jubilee Conference.
As the saying goes “Behind every good man … etc.” Val has kept JB going all these years, and now her job is to try to make him sit down, slow down, and actually, really retire! Good luck Val!