Massey Remembers

John Luxton 1946–2021

The Hon Murray John Finlay Luxton, QSO, CNZM, former National Cabinet minister, dairy industry leader, and Massey alumnus has passed away aged 75.

John Luxton attained a remarkable list of accomplishments in business and politics over the course of his career. Following his father’s path, Luxton was a Member of Parliament from 1987 until his retirement from politics in 2002. He held a cabinet position for much of that time, managing a wide range of portfolios including housing, energy, commerce, industry, police, lands, forestry, food and fibre, Māori Affairs, agriculture and fisheries. He was responsible for a number of significant policy and legislative changes in New Zealand, including the foundation policy work that led to the formation of Fonterra and the deregulation of producer boards.

Following his retirement from parliament, Luxton held a range of key positions including chairman of dairy industry advocate organisation DairyNZ, chair of the Asia NZ Foundation, chair of the large-scale dairying Pouarua Farm Partnership, and Crown appointee co-chair of the Waikato River Authority.

Beyond all of this though, John Luxton was a Massey alumnus, and among his many positions, he sat on the Massey Foundation board for eight years. Mitch Murdoch (Director, Development Advancement Office) worked extensively with Mr Luxton during that time and remembers a quintessential “scholar and gentleman”.

“John was one of a team of five that worked alongside Foundation staff to fundraise and restore the Refectory Building on the Manawatū campus. Sadly, he never got to see it complete, but I know he would have loved the finished result! John was very sentimental about Massey and especially the Manawatū campus where he studied and socialised, and the Refectory held a special place in his heart. I will miss John’s ready smile and humour.”

In 2013, Mr Luxton was awarded the Sir Geoffrey Peren Medal. Named after Massey’s founding principal, the award recognises a graduate who has reached the highest level of achievement in business or professional life, or who has been of significant service to the University, community, or nation.

Former classmate and Massey University Emeritus Professor Ian Warrington reflects on Mr Luxton’s connection to Massey for us below. Our thanks to Professor Warrington for sharing this wonderful tribute.

A legacy of leadership

John Luxton first began his tertiary study journey with a four-year Bachelor of Agricultural Science degree at Massey’s Manawatū campus in 1965. Several postgraduate qualifications were to follow. Perhaps as an indication of future political aspirations, he was elected to the Massey University Students’ Association (MUSA) in the 1967–68 Executive and served as the Sports Vice-President. He had a key role in the 66th NZU Easter Tournament that was hosted by Massey in 1968 – this event was complicated by the fact that several of the cricket teams from South Island universities were on the ill-fated Wahine that sank in Wellington Harbour on the eve of the tournament (all were rescued). John was part of the Executive that, following years of student fundraising and compulsory building levies, oversaw contracts for the construction of the Students’ Association building and the original sports centre, both of which are still heavily used today and serve important roles on the Manawatū campus.

John had a quiet sense of humour and was often the voice of reason and common sense in debates around the various topics being considered by the MUSA Executive. Some issues were somewhat contentious, ranging from the content of Maskerade and the approval (or not) of capping stunts, to challenging the no alcohol and no visitor policies imposed on students in hostels (both of which were widely disregarded at the time!).

His wise counsel and calm demeanour were always appreciated. There was never any doubt that he would achieve in significant roles later in his life. He never forgot his formative years at Massey and willingly gave back in a number of ways, including his term on the Massey Foundation. Massey University can be immensely proud that one of their graduates went on to contribute so much to New Zealand business, politics, and to society in general.