Duty calls

Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough - - HERO ANGELA CROMPTON -

Medals dis­played in Zayd Ian Blis­sett’s liv­ing room mark his ser­vice in the Korean War.

The Blen­heim man is shy when asked what he re­ceived for them, just smil­ing and claim­ing to have ‘‘a PHD in cow­ardice’’.

‘‘That’s why I have lived to be 73. I’ve al­ways made sure I had big friends.’’

Mak­ing friends and do­ing what he can for oth­ers has re­sulted in him be­ing one of five Marl­bor­ough peo­ple named this week as Lo­cal He­roes in the Ki­wibank New Zealan­der of the Year Awards 2012.

A press re­lease says he has vol­un­teered for Meals on Wheels, col­lected for Red Cross ap­peals, is a Jus­tice of the Peace and helps im­mi­grants ad­just to life in a new coun­try. ‘‘I’m a white man, a Euro­pean, so I get [mi­grants] . . . ask­ing me,’’ he says.

Mar­ried to Nisha, a Fi­jian In­dian, Zayd Ian is a spokesman for the Blen­heim Mus­lim faith they share, but was bap­tised in the Church of Eng­land.

Ch­ester­field, Der­byshire, was Ian’s home town and his two older broth­ers still live in Eng­land.

‘‘I was the one that left the Em­pire,’’ he says, set­tling down to tell his story.

He de­scribes Ch­ester­field as a small, ru­ral place where he was one of the church choir­boy so­pra­nos from the ear­li­est age he can re­mem­ber. ‘‘While the other boys were play­ing soc­cer, we were singing these ethe­real, beau­ti­ful Latin hymns.’’

He nearly sang at the Queen’s coro­na­tion, he adds, but in the final prac­tice his voice had started to break and an­other boy from the Ch­ester­field choir took his place. ‘‘But I can say I sang with some­one who went to sing at the coro­na­tion!’’

At 20, Zayd Ian left Eng­land to work for an un­cle liv­ing in the United States.

When the young ‘‘hunt ser­vant’’, who minded the horses and hounds at a Der­byshire manor house es­tate, told his ‘‘landed gen­try’’ boss he was leav­ing, the lat­ter wasn’t im­pressed. ‘‘I was part of the es­tate, part of the chapel. [Work­ers shouldn’t] just go off to Amer­ica when [they] want to.’’

And it did feel like a mis­take when he ar­rived in Los An­ge­les, he says. In 1962 the city had no trees but was just a maze of smog, con­crete, and power lines.

Zayd Ian had gained per­ma­nent res­i­dence – ‘‘easy back then be­cause the quota from Eng­land was never full’’ – and soon he was called up to join the army.

‘‘I went to the United States as a shy English coun­try boy . . . [be­liev­ing] we Bri­tish were the apex of civil­i­sa­tion. Ev­ery­one else was be­hind us . . . ex­cept the colonies, of course, be­cause they were Bri­tish stock!’’ Army life chal­lenged those views. The 29 other sol­diers in his bat­tal­ion came from Italy, Ger­many, South Amer­ica, China and Ja­pan. ‘‘We all had to work to­gether as a team and look out for each other. I re­alised rapidly that un­der­neath we were all the same.’’

Af­ter three years’ ser­vice, Zayd Ian set­tled in San Fran­cisco where he met his first wife, who talked him into leav­ing the United States and mov­ing to New Zealand.

Welling­ton was their first base, then they opted for a qui­eter life in Blen­heim, where Zayd Ian worked for the next 30 years with the rail­ways.

When news came that five jobs at the Spring Creek de­pot would be lost, the then-61-year-old de­cided younger men with young chil­dren and house mort­gages had a greater need to work. It is the sort of re­sponse one might ex­pect from a lo­cal hero, a ti­tle he is shrink­ing from a bit this week.

Re­li­gious faith dic­tates that af­ter fam­ily, neigh­bours are the most im­por­tant in any­one’s life and Zayd Ian re­gards any­one in Marl­bor­ough a neigh­bour.

‘‘I can’t take care of ev­ery­body’s prob­lem, but there are things I can do and should do.

‘‘That sounds a bit pompous,’’ he adds. ‘‘But it’s not meant to.’’

This is the first in a se­ries about the five Marl­bor­ough res­i­dents named Lo­cal He­roes in the Ki­wibank New Zealan­der of the Year Awards 2012.

Help­ing oth­ers: Photo: AN­GELA CROMP­TON

Lo­cal hero Zayd Ian Blis­sett says he never re­gards the things he does as of­fi­cial ‘‘com­mu­nity work’’.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.