Since graduating with a BCom from Otago in 1967, Sir Eion Edgar KNZM has been a proud alumnus, valued friend and unwavering supporter of the University. Sir Eion, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer late last year, died on 14 June aged 76.
A visionary businessman and philanthropist, Sir Eion has had a long association with Otago, serving on the University Council for 23 years from 1981, including seven years as Pro-Chancellor, and four as Chancellor from 1999-2003. He was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws for outstanding service in 2003.
The University of Otago's Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Helen Nicholson says the University Council, staff and students are deeply saddened to learn of Sir Eion's passing.
“It is remarkable that within his lifetime Sir Eion has given so much back to the University. Even with his passing that commitment lives on through the work of the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre which aims to reduce the prevalence, and to improve the management, of diabetes and obesity by finding new ways to prevent and treat these conditions,” Professor Nicholson says.
University Chancellor, Dr Royden Somerville QC, says that Sir Eion has been a valued friend, unwavering supporter and advocate for the University.
“We will miss Sir Eion immensely. Our thoughts are with Lady Jan, and the rest of the Edgar family at this very sad time.”
Dr Graeme Fogelberg CNZM, Professor Sir Murray Brennan GNZM, Sir Eion Edgar KNZM and Sir Bruce Robertson KNZM at the University of Otago's 150th celebrations.
Photo courtesy of Sharron Bennett
As a student, Sir Eion was on the Otago University Students' Association (OUSA) executive in the 1960s, followed by the Graduates' Association in the 1970s. An article in Otago Magazine, farewelling him from his role as Chancellor in 2003, recounts how he sailed through his BCom studies despite outside employment, long hours on OUSA business and a hectic social life. It describes how Sir Eion thrived on building connections, a talent integral to his success in business.
Fellow councillors praised his people skills, including his desire to hear all points of view, his encouragement to others to fulfil their full potential, and how he related easily to everyone.
After leaving the council, he remained actively involved in alumni events, including organising the 1967 University of Otago Student Ball reunion held at Larnach Castle in 2017 and the 1957-1970 OUSA Executive Reunion during the 150th anniversary celebrations in 2019.
Director of Development and Alumni Shelagh Murray says Sir Eion was an advocate and champion for the University's alumni engagement programme, and continually sought to connect and reconnect alumni with the University through his extensive networks. Recently he provided contact information for more than 50 alumni he had met who had either moved back to New Zealand or achieved success in their lives.
“He would often phone me with ideas for support for the University and people to meet, and I know he had the University at the centre of most things he did,” says Ms Murray. “He was a remarkable and inspiring person to know and work with.”
Sir Eion's philanthropy has encompassed sports, education, arts and health. He was instrumental in developing the University's Leading Thinkers fundraising campaign, including helping to establish the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre (EDOR) in 2003 with a generous foundation donation made by the Edgar family. He chaired the Centre's advisory board and was also Patron of Diabetes New Zealand.
Sir Eion Edgar with the Edgar Diabetes and Obesity Research Centre executive in 2019 (from left): Professor Jim Mann, Professor Rachael Taylor, Sir Eion Edgar and Associate Professor Kirsten Coppell.
Founding EDOR Director, Professor Jim Mann, says the Centre remains committed to excellence in research and honouring the legacy of a man who saw a need and didn't hesitate to help.
“We remain indebted to Sir Eion's drive and enthusiasm to support and fund health research. He was committed to doing what he could to improve the lives of his fellow New Zealanders.”
Sir Eion was also a significant supporter of the University's 1990 building campaign, and more recently provided a generous donation to Pūtea Tautoko student support fund, set up to help students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
His philanthropic work has earned Sir Eion many awards and accolades, including a knighthood and being named NBR New Zealander of the Year 2004 and Senior New Zealander of the Year 2010.
His love of sport led him to become chairman of the Winter Games NZ Trust, president of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, and he founded and helped fund Dunedin's Edgar Sports Centre. Last month he was honoured at a special Sport New Zealand event, with tributes led by Her Excellency The Right Honourable Dame Patsy Reddy, Governor-General of New Zealand.
He was also a trustee of the Halberg Disability Foundation and the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.
Sir Eion has made a significant contribution to New Zealand's financial services industry and has been a mainstay of the Forsyth Barr Group Ltd, a major investment company based in Dunedin. He joined the company in 1972 and served as chairman for 20 years between 1998 and 2018. He has also been chairman of the New Zealand Stock Exchange, and a director of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand.
Sir Eion was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame and in April this year he was made a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Directors, in recognition of his contribution to business, governance and the community. Guests at the event included former Prime Minister Jim Bolger ONZ and Sir Stephen Tindall GNZM, who described Sir Eion as “the definition of philanthropy in New Zealand”.