Vale Dr. Ron Palenski

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Palenski is the most eminent in his field; his books are a legacy of his love for the game but also of immense value in recording the good days and the bad of the game in New Zealand.

He surpassed the efforts of Arthur Swan and Arthur Carman, who were the originators of the more statistically-based New Zealand Rugby Almanacks and Sir Terry McLean, whose books were more immediate histories of tours.

Palenski's first forays into rugby writing were through his journalism with Dunedin's Evening Star before he moved to Wellington to work for NZPA. In that time, he made his first overseas tour with the All Blacks in 1974 to Australia. When posted to NZPA's London office, he became the regular writer on the All Blacks tours to Britain. But before then, in 1976, he was one of the first New Zealanders to cover the All Blacks' first tour of Argentina.

On that tour, he formed a connection with tour captain Graham Mourie, a relationship that resulted in Palenski becoming Mourie's biographer in the best-selling book Graham Mourie - Captain. He also covered the 1977 tour of France, the Grand Slam tour of 1978 and the Welsh Centennial tour of 1980.

Returning to New Zealand afterwards, he continued with NZPA in Wellington before having a brief stint with book publishers MOA Publications. During that time, he wrote the autobiographies of Dave Loveridge, Olympic 1500m, and world mile record holder John Walker. Later, he wrote Jeff Wilson – Seasons of Gold and co-wrote Lochore – The Authorised Biography.

Returning to daily journalism in 1986, he was involved in setting up the Auckland office of The Dominion and covered the first Rugby World Cup in 1987; the 1988 All Blacks tour to Australia and the 1989 tour of Britain and Ireland. His last tour was the first in professional rugby, to Italy and France in 1995.

With the passing of the original Men In Black writers and The Encylopedia of NZ Rugby, Rod Chester and Neville McMillan, Palenski worked on revised editions of both.

In 1992, he wrote the first of several histories on rugby, Our National Game. The last was his Brutal – the 100-year fight for world rugby supremacy, published in 2021 – the centenary of New Zealand v South Africa contact.

But in between, there were books like The Jersey -What It Means to Wear the All Black Jersey (2001),

NZ Rugby, Stories of Heroism and Valour (2002), Century in Black – Celebrating 100 years of All Blacks Test rugby, All Blacks v Lions (2005), the photographic history All Blacks – The Authorised Portrait (2007), All Blacks Myths and Legends (2008), Murdoch: The All Black Who Never Returned (2018), and Our Game (2020).

The prize of them all belonged to Rugby: A New Zealand History. Published in 2015, it represented the most complete history ever published on the game in New Zealand.

After leaving journalism to become the executive director of the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, he returned to his home town of Dunedin to run the Hall, situated on the top floor of the Dunedin Railway Station. Amongst all that, he also served as chairman of the Otago Rugby Union.

He also completed an academic career, achieving a Ph.D. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to journalism in 2002 and is survived by his wife Kathy, son Jon and daughter-in-law Kat.


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