Hawke’s Bay Couple’s Bequest ‘Par for the Cause’

  • Dr Michelle Smith, Blair Smith and Skye the service dog

Pursuing their own passions in life has motivated an adopted Hawke’s Bay couple to leave gifts in their will to help others follow theirs.

Avid historian Dr Michelle Smith and former amateur golfing representative Blair Smith describe themselves as “hardworking, pretty ordinary New Zealanders” with a strong desire once they’re gone, to provide financial opportunities for others.

A recent visit to update their will with their lawyer before going on holiday prompted the pair to approach Hawke’s Bay Foundation to put their charitable giving into action.

“Blair always had an idea that he wanted to support Hastings Golf Club (where he is an active member), along with a few other smaller bequests between us: namely the SPCA, Women’s Refuge and muscular dystrophy research. We wanted to give something back to the local causes and charities that are important to us and our lawyer suggested we get in touch with Hawke’s Bay Foundation, so we did.”

“We don’t have any children and thought how can we put the money we’ve made in our lifetime to good use without burdening executors with the ongoing responsibilities of managing it. Hawke’s Bay Foundation are experts in this field, they’re built to last, have deep community roots and know where the needs are greatest.

“We like the endowment model where the money can build up, and we can gift from the income, maintaining the body of the fund and allowing us to leave a lasting legacy.”

Michelle admits she was a ‘late bloomer’ when he it came to finding her passion. Born with muscular dystrophy has brought with it multiple challenges, including several falls, a couple of major operations and reliance on a wheelchair, but as Michelle asserts she never let it stop or define her. In 2010 Michelle finished her PHD and entered the museum sector where she worked as historian and curator of Papakura Museum for eight years.

After moving to Hawke’s Bay five years ago seeking a lifestyle change and better work life balance, Michelle and Blair settled in Havelock North. The five minute commute to work for Blair as Village Manager at Summerset Retirement Village is a far cry from the two hour daily commute he used to endure. Soon after moving here, Michelle was approached by a local farm owner to document Kahuranaki Station’s history. Several private projects later, Michelle felt compelled to set up a grant for other budding historians to assist with the costs of seeing a project through to fruition. She plans to leave a percentage of her estate to Hawke’s Bay Foundation to facilitate her wishes.

“A grant for writers and researchers who don’t have access to larger funds or institutions is something I wish I had had access to when embarking on my own projects – putting together a book is not a cheap exercise! Capturing history is really important, be it family history, local history, it provides a sense of place and identity.

“Blair and I hope with the little bit we leave behind that we can remove financial barriers allowing people to follow their dreams like we’ve been able to. We hope it’s enough to make a difference.”

Blair feels fulfilled that a percentage of his estate will support 1-2 budding local golfers per year in perpetuity, with the costs of coaching, equipment, travel and entry fees through Hastings Golf Club.

Since picking up a golf club at the age of nine, Blair Smith never looked back. Making the coveted New Zealand Under 21 team and playing off a 1 handicap at his peak saw Blair reach the pinnacle in amateur ranks. Now a member of Hastings Golf Club, he is keen to support talented Hawke’s Bay juniors.

“Golf has been a big part of my life and I always knew that I wanted to put something back into the game when the time comes to benefit junior golfers coming through. It’s an expensive sport so if I can provide some support and opportunity to kids out there with talent who are more in need of a hand up, then I’m happy.”

“We’ve been very fortunate in our lives and through hard work we are able to give back in this way. It feels great. It’s easy to leave your money to family but it’s a different world than it used to be in terms of reliance on inheritances.

“We’re not philanthropists, we just want to make things a little easier for a handful of groups that are important to us, be it animals or people.”

Dogs are an integral part of Michelle and Blair’s lives with Michelle relying on service dog Skye to retain her independence. A gift to the SPCA leaves Michelle content she’s giving back.

“Whatever is left at the end we’ll never get to be part of it but know it’s going to be put to good purpose and many people (and animals) will benefit. It’s easy to do and for us, it’s a gift that will keep on giving long after we’ve gone.”

September is Wills Month and gifts left through Hawke’s Bay Foundation grow into an ongoing source of funding, to support the causes locals love, forever.