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Stan – the Man

by Virginia Winder  

Straight Up: Stan Lay forms an arrow point with two javelins at Hamilton in Canada, where he won gold at the Empire Games in 1930 Image: Taranaki Stories database
Straight Up: Stan Lay forms an arrow point with two javelins at Hamilton in Canada, where he won gold at the Empire Games in 1930 Image: Taranaki Stories database

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Empire Games, javelin

When Stan Lay's javelin drooped during the last decade of his life, his family called for fair play.

Without the New Plymouth man's permission, a doctored picture of him holding a limp javelin was used in an advert offering assistance for men with impotence problems. 

There was a personal and public outcry at the gall of advertising company Colenso Communications for using the image.

"We just assumed because the picture was so old that the person in it would have died by now," Colenso boss Adrian Hood told the national media.

Stan (then 90) was ticked off. "It's bit on the nose really, isn't it? It's a bit of a let-down."

The insult cost the company $10,000. Being the true amateur, Stan donated the entire amount to Athletics New Zealand, of which he was patron.

His accompanying letter contained wise, but firm advice about improving the sport and bringing the spectators back to the track.


Still on track

Even though the Empire Games gold medallist retired from top competition in 1950, he stayed on track, repaying his success through coaching and officiating.

His son, retired doctor Peter Lay, believes that sometimes his dad did too much. "There were times I got hacked off for mum's sake - he was always away coaching. He was never at home a lot of the time."

As well as athletics, Stan was a busy self-employed man with a second-storey office on Currie Street between a dentist and a billiard parlour.

He also had a workshop under his lifted-up home on Leach Street, where he lived with his wife, Ngaio, until she died in 1974. Later, he shared homes with his sister-in-law Phyllis, the wife of Stan's late brother Malcolm. The widowed pair found their platonic arrangement suited them both.


Strong views on women

They kept each other company and Stan had someone to cook and clean for him.

"He was a real old-timer," says daughter-in-law Margaret Lay. "Women had to know their place… In many ways he was a male chauvinist and he never changed. Women didn't go back to work (after marrying or having children). He didn't believe women should be prime ministers."

Peter agrees: "He was quite a character; very set in his ways. But you always knew where you stood with dad."

He was always there to help his four children, Peter (New Plymouth), Wendy (Auckland), John (Christchurch), Greg (Melbourne) and their families with gardening and decorating. "But he needed to be heavily supervised by the woman of the house, otherwise you may get what you didn't want," says Margaret. "He did like to do it his way, but he was wonderful at giving a hand."

Stan also visited sick people in hospital and later rest-homes.

The Taranaki athlete was also a dedicated member of St Mary's Pro-Cathedral. He was a sidesman there for more than 40 years, welcoming people into the church. Outside, he was often seen working in the garden, sweeping leaves, and he was always on hand to fulfil any sign-writing needs.


Letters after his name

In 1987, he became a Member of the British Empire (MBE) for his service to athletics and the community. Among those to testify that Stan deserved such recognition was Lord Arthur Porritt, manager of New Zealand's first Empire Games team.

"In his active athletic days of the early 1930s, I knew him personally and well," writes Lord Porritt. "…he was a fine ambassador for New Zealand - unassuming, cheerful, always co-operative and a true sportsman in the best sense of that word…"

Stan, the man who carried the flag for New Zealand at the 1930 Empire Games, had a life-time love of the sporting event that became the Commonwealth Games.

"I have been a great supporter of the Games as a spectator," he says, on an oral history recording.

He joined together with the crowds at the Christchurch Commonwealth Games in 1974; went to the 1978 Edmonton Games in Canada; Brisbane in 1982; and when he went to the Edinburgh Games in 1986 he presented medals to the javelin placegetters.

In 1990, Stan was inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame. The then 84-year-old drove by himself from New Plymouth to Wellington for the ceremony. The determined and sometimes stubborn elderly man kept his licence until the age of 93.

In fact, it was exactly those traits that made aim for the sky.

"It was his determination and dedication to whatever he did," says Margaret, a retired teacher. "Once he had a goal, he focused."

He also held a torch for a long-time love.

In 2000, Stan was made the spiritual guardian of the Olympic flame during its journey through New Zealand to the Games in Sydney, Australia.


Fading away…

At the end of 2002, Stan's inner flame began to ebb. "He basically just faded away," Peter says. "He was not well for five or six months."

On May 12, 2003, he died. He was 96.

"When Pop died, so much stuff came out of the woodwork," says Margaret. "It became very apparent on his death that the family would have to take second place, because he was public property. I think one was a little surprised - because of his age. We were staggered from the letters and cards from all over New Zealand."

Peter nods: "He touched a lot of lives, one way and another."

While Stan made his mark with far-flung javelins, there are more tangible memories of him in Taranaki.


Lay name lives on

Every year, a Stan Lay Award is presented to the most promising male and female athletes under the age of 20. Along with the honour comes a 12-month subscription to an athletics magazine.

At King Edward Park in Hawera there is the Stan Lay Entrance with a plaque telling of his athletic feats and how his sporting career began there.

The donation wall at New Plymouth's Yarrow Stadium is stacked with at least 20 bricks bearing the name Stan Lay.

And when you enter the main Pukekura Park gates and wander along the entrance road to the Bellringer Pavilion, you will be walking on Stan Lay Drive.


Always on the mark

Take a moment to look at the sportsground and think of the man with albatross arms.
 
"I can see him now arriving at Pukekura (on time), parking his car at the entrance to the ground, lifting his car boot, taking out a tin of paint and brushes, a reel of cord, and a tape measure," says New Plymouth Athletic Club life member Howard Wilson.

"He would then go to a point on the ground, take a sighting on a pole in Fillis Street and then proceed to mark out the javelin sector with accuracy. There was no need for complicated mathematical calculations. He'd been there, done that, many times previously..."

 
First published 18 August 2004
 

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RELATED STORIES

Peter Snell’s One-track Mind 

 
 
 
 

ORGANISATIONS

 
Energy City Harriers
PO Box 683
New Plymouth   
Venue: Marist Cricket Club Rooms, Calvert Road
 
Athletics Hawera Inc 
PO Box 175
Hawera   
Venue: Hicks Park 
 

PLACES TO VISIT

 
Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, to see Stan Lay Drive, which runs from the main gates to the Bellringer Pavilion
 
King Edward Park, Hawera, to see the Stan Lay Entrance
 
Yarrow Stadium, Maratahu Street, New Plymouth, to see the brick donation wall
 
 
 

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