Vet Jack Foster celebrated

Nov 20th, 2015 | By | Category: Latest News, Local Events
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Matangi is celebrating local identity Jack Foster with the opening of a reserve in his name on Saturday, November 28.

Commemorating Matangi identity Jack Foster

Commemorating Matangi identity Jack Foster


The Jack Foster Reserve, alongside Matangi School, will be officially opened at a community event at 11am.

Jack Foster was Matangi’s veterinarian for 45 years and was described at his funeral in 2009 as New Zealand’s James Herriot of All Creatures Great and Small fame.

Jack’s wife, Eileen, and daughter, Sue Tanner, and family will be attending the event, which will be followed by fun activities and lunch.

Reserve opening organiser Kitty Burton advises those attending the event to bring finger food, blanket, chairs, water, sunscreen, and a hat.

If the weather is wet the ceremony be will be held at the Matangi Recreational Centre. Inquiries to Kitty on 027-3411-906, or email burton@hnpl.net

Writing in the Waikato Times at the time of Jack Foster’s death, obituary writer Roy Burke described him as “old school.”

A call in the middle of the night from a farmer with a calving heifer in trouble brought immediate assurance, “I’ll be right there.” And he always was.

Jack was a skilful vet. He disdained shoulder-length rubber gloves. He would soap his arm, gently explore a troubled cow’s interior, adjust the position of an unborn calf, and midwife it into this new world.

He was dedicated to all animals. In World War II service in India and Burma with the Royal Army Veterinary Corps he possibly pedicured foot-sore elephants. Certainly he tended the health needs of pack mules, the primary transport in Burmese jungle. In Matangi his patients were the full range of farm animals and domestic pets. He loved them all and did his best for them.

Jack was also a community man, always there when something needed a push. He could be counted on when the Boy Scouts held a bottle drive. He was broom-in-hand when the school swimming pool was drained for a scrub out. He’d do anything for rugby. He backed the athletic club, the swimming club and the PTA.

His hallmarks were an ever-present tobacco pipe and unstylish driving. He would always suck on his pipe as he mused over farmer’s problems. And his car was always in the panel-beaters, says good friend Mark Robinson, owner of Matangi’s Sports Museum.

Jack was reputed to drive faster across paddocks than on the road.

At the funeral someone told a story about Jack’s car’s front bumper decorated with flowers – he had gone across instead of around the central garden at a Hamilton roundabout.

Everybody knew Jack. He was always there to help. He was very colourful. “Getting the job done was more important than the money,” says Mark. “This was well known, but I don’t know that anyone took advantage – he was too respected for that.”

Jack was in veterinary practice till 2000 when health problems prompted him to move to Hamilton closer to medical services. He had experienced a series of minor strokes, then a serious stroke two years ago robbed him of mobility. A week before he died an abdominal problem admitted him to Waikato Hospital. Pneumonia followed. Jack was quietly farewelled with family in attendance on Thursday, January 29, 2009. He was 89.

The sole child of Violet and Harold Foster, Jack was born in Bradford, Yorkshire, on August 23, 1919. His father, an industrial chemist, served in the Royal Navy during World War I. His mother was a nursing sister.

Jack attended school in Bradford and took his degree in veterinary science at Liverpool University, graduating in 1942.

He volunteered for the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, served in India and with the Chindits in Burma, and rose to the rank of captain.

His son Don says Jack didn’t talk a lot about the war, but he obviously enjoyed exposure to other cultures and made many good friends. He saw suffering in the war and in India, and this had its impact.

Following the war he joined a veterinary practice in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire. They put on a “special day” in support of the SPCA – and Jack asked the receptionist to point out to him “anything interesting” in the way of customers or animals. She spotted attractive Eileen Pawson with a little rough-haired terrier, and did her duty by the veterinarian. The vet decided the little dog had to be seen several times.

Jack and Eileen were married within the year on August 2, 1952. Days later they left the United Kingdom for bigger opportunities in New Zealand. They flew by Sunderland Flyingboat to a 2 1/2-year contract with a Bay of Plenty dairy company. The area was battling bovine tuberculosis and Jack led the fight.

In 1955 the family moved to Matangi. Jack was on contract to the Cambridge Veterinary Club and later began a parallel, small animal practice of his own at his home. The Fosters embraced Matangi, and Matangi embraced the Fosters. Mark Robinson believes nobody in the community was more respected than Jack, even though he believes he may have lied about his age to get into the local rugby team.

Matangi had a little “illegal” pub. Jack helped build it. He was great company and his name alone could raise a smile, says Mark. “Without trying to he’d make you laugh. Jack would spend all night over one beer in that little illegal pub.”

Robert Kimber, of Eureka, says, “Jack was Jack – a special guy.” He was a highly reliable veterinarian trained in the old school. “I remember him draining a cow’s uterus with a plastic tube. He had to suck on it. I asked him what it tasted like. ‘A bit salty,’ he replied.”

Robert a dairy farmer and also an artificial breeding technician, says Jack taught him much about animal husbandry. “He taught me much about calving, so much that when he got a call from me he knew I had a real problem. He was a good cow vet. He loved animals. He’ll be fondly remembered.”

Kath Reid remembers Jack as a kindly man who did much for the district. “His heart was always in Matangi.” Jack was closely attached to Matangi’s little church and continued to attend the monthly church service after he and Eileen moved to Chartwell, Kath says.

The Fosters were highly hospitable. Everyone was welcome in their home. She particularly remembers his enthusiasm for New Year “first footing” – an old custom Jack did his best to firmly anchor in Matangi. “He was a great gentleman. He would stand when a lady entered the room.”

Jack’s daughter Sue Tanner says her dad never really retired; he drew back from practice as he lost dexterity, no longer able to do things to the competency level he demanded of himself.

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