Known for his throw
Arthur Grayburn was a shy country boy. He knew no-one and was worried about being bullied when he started at Ashburton High School.
But the moment he gripped a cricket ball and flung it almost into orbit, Grayburn won the respect of all.
A few years later, helping with the Home Guard during World War 2, the teenaged Grayburn astonished adult men with the distance he could hurl a hand grenade.
Later again, a Christchurch Teachers’ College tramping party reached a river and started a stone-throwing competition. This ended with Grayburn’s fellow trampers in awe of him.
The prestige Grayburn enjoyed for his strength and technique, with his helpful nature and interest in others, ensured his popularity and helped him overcome shyness. He became a leading figure in New Zealand masters athletics, serving as competitor, official, coach and administrator.
Undaunted by age and several cancer operations, Grayburn had entered in the 80-plus age group javelin throw at last weekend’s South Island masters championships. But a stroke stilled his mighty right arm. He died on November 10.
Grayburn was raised at Hinds, near Ashburton, where his father was a council worker. He excelled in all sports, but athletics became his favourite. Lacking equipment and specialised coaching, he fashioned his own javelin from a sapling and an old tin and taught himself to throw.
Blessed with natural skill and rapid arm action, he learned by trial and error. It put him on the path to four Canterbury titles, two national titles and a silver medal in Canterbury’s 1950 international Centennial Games.
The establishment of veteran (later masters) athletics in New Zealand then attracted Grayburn. He competed in 33 national championships from 1972 and won 31 consecutive javelin titles. He held four national and four Oceania records. At world games, he won one gold, two silver and two bronze medals and broke one record.
Grayburn gave up daily javelin training at Canterbury University’s track only when he could no longer find a carpark. He shifted to Burnside Park, where he marked out his run-up and continued to toss the javelin past his 80th birthday, seven weeks ago.
Grayburn’s teaching career took him from Hinds to Methven, to sole-charge Harakeke (Nelson), then teaching principal positions at Dunsandel (Central Canterbury), Marshlands and Roydvale (both Christchurch).
In each community, he was sought after for his sporting and coaching ability. He was an accomplished rugby fullback and goal kicker until concussion forced him to quit. He teased more than 1200 wickets in 51 seasons of cricket, with leg-spin, appearing at Hawke Cup level for North Canterbury and playing in a Central Districts trial.
Though he bowled with guile, it was Grayburn’s fielding on the boundary that could turn matches. Many a batsman seeking a second run found his stumps shattered by a thunderbolt from the champion thrower.
His wife, Methven woman Merle (Thomson), recalls watching the Centennial Games at Lancaster Park. She noticed this javelin thrower with the same name as a new teacher at Methven. They met later through the drama club and married in 1954. They had two sons.
She says family life, teaching and running a school, javelin training and community involvement meant a busy life. Yet her husband became involved also in coaching, and was always ready to help other athletes. He spent countless Saturdays at Queen Elizabeth II Park as an official at athletics meets. He officiated at the 1974 Christchurch and 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games. As an administrator, he was on national and Canterbury masters association executives and served as Canterbury president.
In a case of ‘‘if you can’t beat them, join them’’, his wife began to help and quickly became equally committed to running sports events.
The couple combined forces in the writing of more than a dozen books of history, from family stories to local districts, from Freemasonry to sports bodies.
Freemasonry and the Anglican Church were important in Grayburn’s life, as were photography, gardening and the fellowship of Probus. He never shirked leadership positions. He read avidly, keeping up with current events and maintaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of athletics performances.
Still, he found time on winter Saturdays to stand on the sideline and watch the University senior rugby team in action. He was one of a group of knowledgeable followers whose applause was heartfelt, whose criticism benign.
Cheerful and sociable was his nature. Two baskets of letters and cards are testament to it. A letter from old friend John Fletcher, says: ‘‘Arthur was a whole-hearted contributor to worthwhile causes. He was a giver, not a taker. He was not capable of acting in any kind of mean-spirited way.’’
Arthur Edwin Grayburn, born Ashburton, October 9, 1927; died Christchurch, November 10, 2007. Survived by wife Merle, sons Murray and Ian and four grandchildren.