John Little still stands tall like the homes he has built around Tauranga. And like those buildings he will live past the 100-year milestone he has just reached.
John keeps with the times and is one of only a few residents at his retirement village with a mobile phone. He remains independent despite his age, living in a serviced apartment rather than rest home care and looks younger that his years.
The 100-year-old celebrated his birthday on Tuesday and although he can’t tell you the secret to a long life, he has the advice to be kind and generous to others.
“Be adventurous and take on something new each time.”
John was born in Oxton, England, and trained to go to sea at 16 which is where he got his first taste of New Zealand.
During WWII he was in the merchant navy provisioning troop ships and bringing supplies to England.
After the war he went back to sea but when he got to New Zealand this time he decided to stay and deserted his ship.
John worked in the Martha gold mine at Waihi before returning to England where he met his wife Jenny.
He then trained in bricklaying before returning to Aotearoa, this time moving to Tauranga and building his first home on Mansels Road in Greerton which is still standing some 70 years later.
“I decided to stay for the lifestyle, a new lifestyle for me.
“The fact that I could build my own house, things I probably couldn't do in England without a lot of paperwork and that sort of thing.
“It was so easy to come here and settle down and build your own places.”
John and Jenny had four children and over the years John built a small real estate empire of flats and homes.
His son Robert says this wasn’t to make money as he sold and rented things at a fair price but the fulfilment of doing a job well.
“It was the satisfaction of finishing a project to the best that he could do.”
John was also in the community organisation Jaycee and built the original Humpty Dumpty at Memorial Park.
Despite the 40-odd homes John built, his most significant accomplishment is his family.
“That's been my most important thing, is being in the family and bringing them up.
“I've been with them all the time and they've been with me in my old age now.”
His son John says his dad was there for all of them as a family and is a grafter who is happy to get his hands dirty.
“Dad gave me the greatest gift, he believed in me.
“As a son and as his daughters and Robert would say he had a zest for our lives and our betterment.”
These traits have been passed down to John’s 10 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, says John Junior.
Robert also hopes his dad’s longevity genes have been passed down as well.
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