John Baldwin (JB) Munro, QSO, JP, was born on August 15, 1936 in Southland. JB – a self-described “community volunteer” known for his “anything is possible” attitude – has made a major contribution throughout his life to IHC and people living with intellectual disabilities. He also played a pivotal role in the most significant advance in disability rights in the history of New Zealand.
His experience of polio as a child and as a state ward gave him insight into the vulnerability of childhood and what disability meant for children and families. At age nine he was adopted by William and Lily Munro, farmers from the outskirts of Invercargill who fostered children when their own, including Burt Munro of World’s Fastest Indian fame, left home. More than 100 children were cared for in the Munro home.
Educated at St George Primary (now Fernworth Primary), Tweedsmuir Junior High, and Southland Boys’ High School, he led the local Boys Brigade chapter, and was superintendent of a Sunday school that had 35 volunteer teachers working with 400 children. After two years’ youth work in Sydney, he returned to New Zealand, married his fiancée Val (nee Sharfe), and shifted to Dunedin to work for the YMCA. He ran weekly and fortnightly dances which attracted up to 500 young people.
JB was a clerk for the Vacuum Oil Company (1954 to 1957); secretary for the YMCA in Invercargill, Australia, and Dunedin (1958 to 1968); Southland administrator for IHC New Zealand (1968 to 1973); chairman for the Paraplegic Trust Appeal (1973); and set up the Fundraising Institute of New Zealand. In Parliament, he championed the ground-breaking Disabled Persons’ Community Welfare Act in 1975. The Bill gave disabled people community services as of right for the first time.For seven years, he chaired the New Zealand Federation of Voluntary Welfare agencies, and was vice-chairman of the 1981 Telethon, which raised NZ$6 million and which funded teletext in New Zealand. He was an Invercargill city councillor and Labour Party candidate.
During his 20-year reign as IHC national director, in 1983 he persuaded IHC to gift $5000 seed funding for Parent to Parent to establish in Auckland.
JB was awarded the Queen’s Service Order in the 1990 New Year Honours for public service.
In more recent times, he was president of Rotary Mosgiel and served on Rotary’s international service committee. The New Zealand wing of Rotary International’s disaster relief ShelterBox project has raised millions of dollars since JB was its first secretary. He has also raised funds, and served as international chairman for seniors’ community housing organisation Abbeyfield.
In 2014 he was inducted into the Hall of Fame at IHC’s Attitude Awards. The Hall of Fame is the awards’ highest honour, recognising and celebrating outstanding individuals who have given life-long service to the disability community.