Philanthropist ‘led by example’

Leading businessman and philanthropist Sir Eion Edgar - who helped drive such causes as creating sports arenas in Dunedin - is being remembered as a man who amplified his impact by inspiring other people.

Sir Eion (76) died yesterday in his Queenstown home, his family said.

He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year.

Sir Eion spent nearly 50 years with the Forsyth Barr investment firm, including two decades as chairman, and was its managing director in the 1990s.

He was known for supporting countless causes - two prominent ones being Dunedin’s multipurpose indoor sports venue, the Edgar Centre, and the roofed Forsyth Barr Stadium, home of the Highlanders rugby team.

Forsyth Barr managing director Neil Paviour-Smith described Sir Eion as a generous, inspiring and enthusiastic leader.

"He loved life, he struggled to say no, he was a mentor and encouraged people to get involved and do their best.

"He really led by example in that respect and he was extraordinarily generous, plus a proud southern man as well."

Sir Eion loved the company of other people, Mr Paviour-Smith said.

"I used to joke that he would go to the airport for a flight early so he could do a couple of laps of the Koru Club and catch up with people."

Sir Eion was made an ambassador for Forsyth Barr.

"We express our sincere condolences, thoughts and best wishes to Eion’s wife of 50 years Jan, Lady Edgar, to his sons Jonty, Hamish and Adam and to the whole Edgar family," Mr Paviour-Smith said.

Sir Eion Edgar and his wife, Jan, when he was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of...
Sir Eion Edgar and his wife, Jan, when he was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Directors recently. Photo: Tracey Roxburg

Sir Eion left behind an enormous legacy, his family said in a statement.

"He was a leader in philanthropy in New Zealand and brought others along with him to amplify his impact and help make New Zealand a better place."

His friend of 36 years, Queenstown Lakes Mayor Jim Boult, called Sir Eion "a good Kiwi man".

"He's been an absolute gift to our district, and the whole of New Zealand."

He was generous with his own money and in convincing others to support causes, Mr Boult said.

Dunedin Mayor Aaron Hawkins said Sir Eion made a tremendous contribution to New Zealand, particularly Dunedin and the wider Otago region.

"His philanthropic efforts benefited virtually every aspect of this community, including education, youth, sports, arts and health.

"Perhaps most visibly, Dunedin’s ever-popular Edgar Centre was only made possible thanks to the passion of, and a very generous donation from, Sir Eion in the mid-1990s."

Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson said Sir Eion’s generosity, drive and energy had been immense.

"At a personal level, I want to acknowledge Sir Eion for his unfailing generosity of spirit."

He was a former trustee of the Halberg Disability Foundation and president of the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Sir Eion earned many awards and accolades for his philanthropy, including a knighthood, NBR New Zealander of the Year 2004, Senior New Zealander of the Year in 2010 and being inducted into the Business Hall of Fame.

He was a former chairman of the Winter Games NZ Charitable Trust and founding benefactor and chairman of the University of Otago’s Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre.

The Edgar family’s appointment on the Dunedin Indoor Sports Venue Trust, Alan McKenzie, said many people would never know how wide-ranging Sir Eion’s contribution was.

He had aimed to die with everyone owing him a favour and might have just achieved it, Mr McKenzie said.

Sir Eion was chancellor of the university from 1999-2003.

University of Otago acting vice-chancellor Prof Helen Nicholson said the university council, staff and students were deeply saddened by his death.

University chancellor Dr Royden Somerville said Sir Eion was a valued friend and unwavering advocate for the university.

He became a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit, for services to education, business and sport, in 2003 and after restoration of titular honours he accepted redesignation as a knight in 2009.

Details about his funeral are yet to be confirmed.


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