Bruce Ullrich: The man, the legacy

With the launch of his captivating, historically rich, autobiography ‘My Arena’, Bruce Ullrich, OBE, relives some of our proudest moments, such as the 1974 Commonwealth Games. Metropol writer Natalia Macrides-Pantos reports.

One lives a life of limited innings, so why not go for the six? When you’re Bruce Ullrich you simply roll up your sleeves and go for it. You play to win, to do the best you can. You play for a common goal, to progress and to bring others along with you. Life is a team sport for Bruce. Today, grandfather to five girls and a boy, plus honourary granddad to four “delightful” Chinese children, he’s a lover of each new chapter of experiences, not to mention playing doubles tennis every Wednesday for the past 40 years.

Bruce Ullrich

Perhaps his longstanding love for team sports, like rugby and cricket, encapsulated his ability to have tackled extremely challenging projects, seeing them through to completion, through insightful leadership, humble mentoring, in business, education, and in the greater international sports arenas.

As a young boy, Bruce delivered groceries by bicycle to customers, quickly learning the value of a dollar, the responsibility, and merit of completing a job, and engaging with people. An excerpt from his book reads, “There were no adding machines then” when needing to tabulate client bills. “It certainly sharpened my maths.”

A true to life ‘get on with it’ mentality proved intrinsic to Bruce’s life philosophy. Could this same boy, enthralled with his brother’s ‘Boy’s Own Annual’ on Antarctic expeditions, ever imagine Sir Edmund Hillary inviting him to take over as Chairman for the 1975 New Zealand Himalayan expedition? Probably not.How does one chase a sporting goal, a degree, a marathon, a Commonwealth Games bid with a delegation of six on raffle ticket money travel funds? A hearty chuckle follows his straightforward answer; “It’s a matter of having an idea and going after it, and then bringing a great team along with you for the ride. I do feel that having strong role models is key to seeing possibility in action.”

Bruce made New Zealanders believe holding the games in Christchurch, his home town, was possible. His book commemorates a wealth of personalities, including diplomats, members of the royal family, and chance meetings at a time where anything seemed possible, from chairing committees, trade negotiations with China, to speaking engagements, making for a colourful non-stop life abuzz with limitless opportunities through hard work and fervent ambition.

Read juicy behind-the-scenes details of the race to win the 1970 bid in Edinburgh, with a 20 minute film on Christchurch, numerous speeches, some beers, some wine, and McWilliam’s Palomino Sherry. Add some Bluff oysters especially flown in for a unique Kiwi touch, swaying voters to the dynamic charm that generated the exciting Canterbury vibes.

The result, a phenomenal 36-2 victory over Melbourne to win the bid. The book, a story within stories, hints at magical moments combining what’s written in the stars, to the dogged determination to make something happen. “I tend to lead from behind,” laughs Bruce. “No matter the scoreboard, there is a certain player in the game of life that can look back after the match and say, win or lose, I enjoyed that.”

Bruce is certainly one of those; a Christchurch Boys’ High “old boy” with a nostalgic edge, inherent wit, and effortless charm.

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