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Remembering Tom Shaw: Family gift supports biological sciences students

14 February 2020

Tom Shaw prize supports biological sciences
The Tom Shaw Memorial Prize is awarded to biological sciences students who show outstanding ability in ecology or botany.

Raised on a Whakatane farm with the rugged hill country of Te Urewera on their back doorstep, the Shaw brothers had one of those quintessential, 60s Kiwi kids’ upbringing.

Brothers Willie, Deryck, Tom, Pete, and Graeme ‘grew up bush’, spending their days exploring neighbouring farms, tramping and hunting – anything to get outdoors and running around, encouraged by their equally-outdoorsy parents, Bruce and Colleen.

Not surprisingly, the Shaw brothers grew up with a great respect and love of nature and the environment, with Willie, Tom, Deryck and Pete eventually heading off to the University of Waikato in the 70s to study science and environment-related subjects.

Tragically, in 1978, just 20 years old and two years into his Bachelor of Science degree, Tom, the third eldest (middle) of the five boys, died in a flash flood while hunting near the Motu River.

As a way of remembering Tom, the family set up a scholarship prize in his name – the Tom Shaw Memorial Prize in Biological Sciences.

Established in 1979, the prize is now in its 40th year and the Shaws have committed to providing funding for a further 20 years. All up, that will see the Shaws’ involvement with the University of Waikato span more than 65 years (starting with Willie’s first year of study in 1973).

The prize is awarded annually to an undergraduate biological sciences student who has shown outstanding ability in ecology or botany – subjects that are close to the Shaws’ hearts and of particular interest to Tom, who was studying both before he died.

Eldest brother Willie says he and his brothers were – and are - incredibly close, and establishing the prize was a way for them and their parents to honour Tom’s memory.

“There’s only a year or so between each of us, and being so close in age meant we spent all of our time together. We have great memories of roaming the neighbouring farms as kids and going right up into the backcountry hunting and tramping, and we all still enjoy outdoor lifestyles.

“It was important to us that the prize could recognise the effort and achievements of young people coming through university, especially in an area that aligns with what Tom was so passionate about,” he says.

A long connection with the University

By the early 80s, Willie, Deryck and Pete had all graduated from the University of Waikato. Willie and Deryck with a Bachelor of Science majoring in biological sciences and earth sciences, and Pete with a Bachelor of Social Science majoring in geography.

Based in Rotorua, Willie is an ecologist with about 40 years’ experience under his belt, and is a director of Wildlands, a nationwide ecological consultancy business. Deryck is the director of APR Consultants, a Rotorua-based strategic planning, research, business and economic development company, and he was one of the University’s first Distinguished Alumni in 2007. Pete is operations manager for the Forest Lifeforce Restoration Trust, which is working to restore about 20,000 hectares of native forest in the Central North Island. Youngest brother Graeme was previously a builder, and is currently a professional hunter and Department of Conservation assets manager involved with the local council in Hanmer, and still keeps an active interest in the backcountry, chairing the local search and rescue unit.

Turning 93 this year, Dad Bruce still lives in Whakatane and is still, according to his sons, as sharp as ever. Mum Colleen sadly passed away in 1999 and the family remember her fondly as the catalyst and lead supporter for their passion for the outdoors.

Getting the most from donating

The Shaw family have directed their gift towards the University of Waikato’s endowment fund.

Established in 2011, the University’s endowment fund allows for the strategic investment of interest earned on funds, which enables financial donations to go further. In an endowment fund, the capital gifted is invested in perpetuity and only the interest is used.

Willie says that his family was more than happy for the University to direct his family’s gift in the most appropriate way.

“We were keen for the University to do what they best saw fit in order to maximise the benefit for students,” he says.

“By keeping a level of flexibility to the investment it means that as times change and priorities evolve, we know the University will continue to use our gift to keep supporting students in the years to come.”

Director of Development Peta Goldsworthy says gifts for academic prizes, such as the Tom Shaw prize, make a real difference in the lives of students.

“We’re very pleased to have the support of the Shaw family, especially as we now recognise the 40th anniversary of their support, and welcome their commitment to fund another 20 years of the prize.”

2020 prize recipient

The recipient of the Tom Shaw Memorial Prize in Biological Sciences for 2020 is Kynan Harrison. Based in Taupo, Kynan is in his final year of a Bachelor of Science, studying ecology, biodiversity and environmental sciences.


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