Gentleman of the green marks 70 years in the game

John Williamson is a true gentlemen of the green.

He is the first to encourage people to pick up their bowl and the first to congratulate his opponents on a good game, even if they beat him.

Known affectionately as "John Willy" in the southern bowls community, Williamson has clocked 70 consecutive years playing the sport — indoor and outdoor — that he loves.

"It’s just gone by like that," Williamson said.

"I still feel like I could do a few more yet."

His gentle nature and warmth towards the sport led to him creating his own sporting mantra: "If you cannot lose gracefully, then you cannot win gracefully either".

"I’ve always been a fair sportsman, you know. I give credit where it’s due ... Everything’s good to me.

"If someone's better than me, I’m the first to congratulate them."

Williamson, 84, started playing bowls at 14 after his friends asked him to come along to a session in his home town, Alexandra.

That started a lifelong journey in both indoor and outdoor bowls. Williamson later moved to Dunedin, joining Tainui in 1967 then Andersons Bay in 1998.

There have been many highlights from winning the Central Otago champion of champions junior singles in 1983 to winning the veteran champion of champions singles for Andy Bay in 2006.

He played for Otago when they won the Paterson Trophy interprovincial title in 1970 and was runner-up in the New Zealand fours when representing Central Otago in 1990.

He even trialled for the New Zealand indoor bowls team in 1989.

While bowls was a big part of his life, his wife, Elva, was not so keen on the sport, he said.

It made for a special moment when she started to have a roll and joined her husband to win club championship pairs, and they were champion of champions runners-up for Central Otago in 1983.

But while he started out in the sport "endeavouring to be top dog", it had been the people who had kept him going, he said.

"The biggest one is the friends I’ve made over that time," he said.

"Most of them are very good friends, ones that are still bright and breathing.

"That’s the most important thing to me. The actual winning or losing only comes second."

Williamson has retired from indoor bowls due to health problems, but remains an outdoor social member at Andersons Bay and shows no signs of slowing down.

"I’m still bowling."