He has saved lives, delivered babies, helped support people through difficult times and witnessed heart-wrenching moments. Terry Kent, who has been awarded an ultra-long service medal, chats to Rebecca Ryan about his 57 years with St John.
Terry Kent first walked through the doors of St John in Oamaru on the first Wednesday of February in 1964.
He had never planned on volunteering for the organisation, nor did he expect to stay in Oamaru very long, after moving to the North Otago town from Auckland.
“And here I am 57 years later,” the Commander of the Order of St John said.
“You get the bug.”
By the end of Mr Kent’s first year with St John, he was not only on ambulance and first aid duties, he was also sergeant-secretary of the division.
When he was still in his early 20s, was asked oversee the men’s ambulance division as its superintendent.
“I said ‘But there’s men there, in their 60s, why are you asking a person in their young 20s to do this?’.”
But he took on the challenge.
In those days, men, women, boys and girls all met on different nights.
“It had come from the Victorian times … first aid was always done segregated gender-wise.”
Mr Kent helped oversee the combining of the men’s and women’s divisions, and also served as the North Otago sub-district finance officer, then sub-district cadet officer and sub-district superintendent.
He was also the first person from North Otago to attend the National Ambulance Officers Training School in Auckland, and the first to qualify as an intermediate paramedic.
When Mr Kent moved from Auckland to Oamaru to marry a local woman in 1963, he was a mechanic by trade.
He worked in partnership with the Mortimer family, before running his own business – Terry Kent Motors.
As a St John volunteer, he would often have to drop everything to attend a callout.
“I would just have to stop selling a car, or stop fixing a car, and wipe my hands clean, throw on some overalls or a jacket and off I would go.”
During those years, he estimated he was doing 1500 to 2000 hours of voluntary work over and above his paid work.
“Which meant being on duty at night, and maybe getting very little sleep, and then get up the next morning and go to work.”
After 16 years of volunteering, he sold his business and turned his hobby into job, becoming the first “paid” station officer in North Otago.
He took on several different responsibilities within the organisation, and had many title changes, over the next 43 years.
He also spent much of his career as a representative on the Oamaru Area Committee, assisting with new buildings and refurbishments, and promotion and fundraising.
“People would say things like ‘Hey, what’s the story Terry? Didn’t see your photo in the paper this week’.
“But in actual fact what I was doing was promoting the causes, the issue of the day and … that’s why I made my way up.”
His efforts were recognised by his admission to the Order of St John, promotion to officer and then commander. He was just the third person in North Otago to reach the commander rank in the branch’s 129-year history.
“I’m very proud of being commander … it’s a mark of doing over and above what you’re expected to do.”
At each step of his volunteering and career within the organisation, he had been approached about moving into the different roles.
“Very few of those jobs you select yourself to go into … you are chosen by people to do it.
“I’ve always accepted it as a compliment that people thought I was capable of doing the job, and would do it well.”
During his years on the front line for St John, he witnessed some heart-wrenching moments. You name it, he has responded to it.
His second-ever volunteer partner died as a result of an industrial accident – and Mr Kent was one of the first people on the scene.
Mr Kent said he lived through the era “where either you coped or you got out”.
There was only one type of support that really worked.
“That was a cup of tea or coffee with your voluntary partner and unwind before you go home.”
But he knew volunteering with St John was his calling “because of what I’ve come through and survived”.
And he had used his experiences to help mentor others who had come through St John.
Helping people during their time of need was “absolutely, without doubt” the most rewarding part of the role, he said.
“Going into a house and seeing the look of relief on someone’s face that you’re there, that they trust you instantly.
“And knowing, I guess, that you have done the training and if something can be done, you will be able to do it. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Sometimes it was not heroics, or amazing medical support, that was needed.
“It’s putting your hand on the shoulder, or holding the hand, of somebody … telling them you’re there, you’re staying with them.”
Mr Kent was presented with an ultra-long service medal at an honours and awards presentation ceremony last month. He was the 43rd person in the world to receive one.
“We all say this – nobody, surely, joins an organisation to become a life member, and nobody joins an organisation with the expectation they’ll get a medal or something else.
“You join the organisation for the values of that organisation.”
His daughter, Angela Fodie, was also recognised at the awards, presented with a 25-year service medal.
Mr Kent retired from his paid role with St John in 2007, but he continued to serve on the area committee, appointed as chairman in 2013, and serving another two terms. He helped establish the St John Community Shop and was involved in efforts to search for a much needed new station and community facility.
He continues to serve on the committee and can be found volunteering at the community shop once a week.