At the Conference of Rotary Clubs in Palmerston North in 1940, Sir John Robert McKenzie made a ‘munificent gift’ to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand. Through a donation of £100,000 plus one-third of the McKenzie’s Stores’ annual profits, the J R McKenzie Trust was born. Sir John’s words during his announcement at the Conference would prove prophetic:
“I have established a Trust which I hope will prove of benefit to the community, not only at present, but in the years to come.”
The J R McKenzie Trust has a long history of helping to build stronger communities, primarily through making grants to community organisations. Its vision of a socially just and inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand provides it with a touchstone as it seeks to contribute to longer term, fundamental change where fewer people are struggling, and there is less need for health and social services over time.
Sir John Robert McKenzie
One of seven children of Scottish immigrants, John was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1876. He served in the Victoria Bushmen’s Regiment during the Boer War until he was invalided home in 1901. In 1905, he established a ‘fancy goods’ store with his sister Ella which proved so successful, the pair quickly expanded inter-state. After holidaying in New Zealand in 1909, John decided to transfer his business and the first Aotearoa-based McKenzie’s Store was opened in Dunedin.
With a gift of £10,000, he established the first Trust to bear his name in 1938, the J R McKenzie Youth Education Trust. John McKenzie believed that a business should share its prosperity with those who had helped to make it prosperous and so this was quickly followed by the establishment of J R McKenzie Trust in 1940. The Trust’s initial beneficiaries were disabled servicemen, the Plunket Society, and children in need. In a true sign of the times, John McKenzie said, ‘New Zealand has no greater assets than its soldiers and its children, and the country’s future is in their hands.’
In 1949, he was recognised for his contribution to public welfare when he was made a Knight of the Order of the British Empire. Sir John was a humble but inspirational man who accomplished everything with quiet resolve, minimal fuss and maximum decency.
Sir John and his wife, May, raised two sons: Don, who was killed in WWII, and Roy, who expanded and embedded the Trust’s mahi. Sir John died in 1955.
Sir Roy McKenzie
Born in 1922, Roy McKenzie attended Timaru Boys High School and Otago University, where he studied accountancy. During the Second World War he served in the RNZAF and the RAF. In 1948, Sir Roy married Shirley Howard. Together they had three children, Peter, John and Robyn, and nine grandchildren. From 1949 to 1970 he was the Executive Director for McKenzie’s (NZ) Ltd.
As the heir to the McKenzie’s retail empire, Sir Roy pledged more money than most people will ever earn and is known as one of the great New Zealand philanthropists. The causes he supported were numerous and varied including the establishment of the Te Omanga Trust, the first Women’s Refuge, as well as several schools for children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
He donated the land on which Outward Bound sits, and is renowned for his kindness and willingness to work for people in need. He unassumingly saw himself as a ‘community volunteer’ and in 2004 was a winner of a Wellingtonian of the Year Award in the Community Service category.
Sir Roy sat on the J R McKenzie Trust Board from 1947 – 1993, Chairing it for 17 years. He was significantly involved in the governance of the J R McKenzie Youth Education Fund and also set up other grantmaking bodies such as:
- the McKenzie Education Foundation (1966 – 85)
- the Roy McKenzie Foundation (1986 – 95) – ground-breaking in its flexibility and innovation, this Foundation was instrumental in the establishment of Philanthropy New Zealand and Generosity New Zealand (originally known as the Funding Information Service).
- the Deaf Decade Trust (1992 – present), which now operates as the Deaf Development Fund.
Sir Roy passed away in 2007.
- See excerpts from Giving It All Away, a Paul Davidson documentary about the history of the family here.
- Read a short history of the Trust from our 75th anniversary here.