Judy Howat started playing bowls in 1972, at the Wellington Women’s Bowling Club in Kibirnie, Wellington.
Today, at the age of 83, the ebullient Judy is still playing bowls. And loving the game at her current Lyall Bay Bowling Club as much as the day she started. If not more.
In the 46 years between then and now, Judy’s collected heaps of bowling accolades. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Kiwi bowler who has won more. But to the self-effacing Judy, she’s just been ‘lucky’. And in particular, lucky that she has been mentored, coached, inspired and played with people who have made her look good.
It’s a humbleness she has grown up with. Judy was born in Taumarunui – the archetypal railway town legended in the Peter Cape Kiwi folksong ‘Taumarunui on the Main Trunk Line’. Her father was a railway worker, then an insurance agent. Judy was one of 12 kids – there was no room in family for anyone to be anything other than humble.
“After a stint in Wanganui,” recalls Judy, “I Iived with an older sister in Raurimu, where I went to school for a few years then joined the local Post Office as a ‘general dogsbody’.“
“It was one of those small town places where you did anything and everything,” says Judy. Her job was busy, even in a settlement which was famous for nothing more than the railway spiral. In the fifties, the Post Office was as pervasive in our lives as Google is today – they literally controlled the mail, the telephone, the telegram and the teleprinter without commercial challenge.
Judy found herself in Wellington in 1951, training as a Teleprinter Operator. “The other girls on the course were despatched back to their home towns,” says Judy, “But I was told I was staying Wellington in the Telegraph office. That’s where I met Peter.” They were married in 1955.
Peter and Judy started collecting family. They had 4 kids, who today have spread far and wide – living in Sydney, Brisbane, Whangarei and Luxembourg. They have 10 grandkids. And one great-grandkid. Judy and Peter consider themselves lucky to have such a wonderful family.
As the kids got into their teenage years, Peter took up bowls. And although everyone in the bowls world knows the name ‘Judy Howat’, Peter became a very handy bowler too, and until recently played regularly (‘but got sick of playing in the wind’) preferring to spend time driving his taxi at the age of 86.
It was another 8 years before Judy took the game up with the idea that ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’. Judy’s dad had played, And three of her brothers and three of her sisters played (and a brother and sister still play today). Being a Howat meant playing bowls.
Judy’s quick to ascribe her bowls success to others.
“I owe a lot to Joyce Osborne,” says Judy. “I came to know her well when I was nominated for the Commonwealth Games team in Scotland in 1986, then was dropped (along with two other ladies) by the Commonwealth Games Committee before the event took place. I was devastated. But Joyce and other friends were there for me and drove me to keep trying.”
(Joyce and her team were unable to back up their Silver in the triples they had won at the 1982 Brisbane Games, but she did go on to win two Golds in the Asia Pacific Bowls Championship at Tweed Heads in 1985.)
Despite the huge setback, it was the start of Judy’s time being a ‘first pick’ for New Zealand’s lawn bowls representative teams. She had great success as a team player (see below) and it reaffirmed her life philosophy that she was lucky to play with others – playing and winning with the likes of Ken Walker, Millie Khan, Marie Watson and Maurice Symes.
As any success does, it also came with ‘bugger’ moments that often others don’t see. “Two come to mind,” says Judy, “We lost the Gold by one shot in the Fours at World Bowls in Scotland in 1992. And in the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Canada, I missed out in my section on the chance to play off for Gold or Silver in the Singles by shot differential over all the games.”
In between, there were plenty of successes. At national, centre and club level. But being feted for her bowls has never stopped Judy from rolling up her sleeves and helping out at the bowling clubs. Whether it be helping with greens maintenance, wheelbarrowing soil, spreading soil, painting profiles, painting seats, doing ‘tea lady’ duty, and more. “It’s always been a lot of fun!”
She’s pretty much held all positions there are to hold at club level: executive committee member; coach; interclub and pennants coordinator; vice-president; president; green superintendent; selector; secretary and ‘Mates in Bowls’ organiser.
To everyone other than the modest Judy, it is no surprise that she has been cited numerous times for her success and her work (and to keep Judy happy – for her ‘luck’).
But being ‘lucky’ is often how great people describe their lives. It’s an acknowledgement that life has been good to them, and they’re grateful. They’re grateful for their patient and tolerant family. They’re grateful for the support of their friends. They do not dwell on the negative or the ‘buggers’. But on the positive. And just as they see life as being good to them, they are good to life.
We’re ‘lucky’ to have Judy around.
International Titles & Representations
1986 Commonwealth Games, Edinburgh, Scotland. Nominated.
1987 Invitation International Mixed Pairs, Tweed Heads, Australia (with
1987 Pacific Games, Lei, Papua & New Guinea. Silver medal Fours.
1988 World Bowls Championship, Auckland, New Zealand. 4th Pairs
(with Millie Khan).
1988 Australia Bicentennial International Tournament, Brisbane,
Australia. Silver Pairs (with Millie Khan).
1990 Commonwealth Games, Auckland, New Zealand. Gold Pairs
(with Marie Watson).
1990 Test Series versus British Isles, New Zealand. Win New Zealand.
1991 Pacific Games, Hong Kong. Silver Fours.
1991 Pacific Games, Hong Kong. Bronze Pairs (with Marie Watson).
1992 World Bowls Championship, Ayr, Scotland. Silver Fours.
1992 World Bowls Championship, Ayr, Scotland. Bronze Pairs (with
1994 Commonwealth Games Stopover Tournament, Fiji.
1994 Commonwealth Games, Victoria, Canada.
1995 Pacific Games, Dunedin, New Zealand. Silver Pairs (with Betty
1995 Pacific Games, Dunedin, New Zealand. Silver Singles.
1996 Test Series versus South Africa, South Africa. Draw.
1996 World Bowls Championship, Royal Leamington Spa, England.
1997 Women’s Masters Trans-Tasman Series.
1998 Women’s Masters Trans-Tasman Series.
1988 National Singles. Winner.
1989 National Champion of Champions Singles. Winner.
1991 National Champion of Champions Singles. Winner.
1992 National Champion of Champions Singles. Winner.
1994 National Champion of Champions Singles. Third equal.
1995 National Champion of Champions Singles. Runner-up.
1998 Received Gold Star.
2000 National Fours. Winner (with Barbara Herrett, Tui Opai, Christine
1983 National Intercentre (Zone) Finals. Winners representing
1984 National Intercentre Finals. Winners representing Wellington in
1986 National Intercentre Finals. Winners representing Wellington in
1996/97 National Mixed Pairs. Third equal (with Maurice Symes).
1997/1998 National Interclub Finals. Winners representing Wellington
Women’s Bowling Club (with Jean Grebby, Dorothy McLean,
Jenny Hynam, Sheila Boyes, Alison Scott, Violet Gooch).
1997/1998 National Mixed Pairs Final. Runner-up (with Maurice Symes).
Centre Titles & Representations
1982-2000 Wellington Centre. Representative.
1997/1998 Wellington Centre. Player of the Year.
1998/1999 Wellington Centre. Player of the Year.
1999/2000 Wellington Centre. Player of the Year.
2000-now Wellington Centre Masters. Representative.
As at 2019 Wellington Centre. 37 titles.
As at 2019 Kapiti Centre. 8 titles. (Awarded non-resident Kapiti Coast Gold
As at 2019 Manawatu Centre. 4 titles.
As at 2019 Wanganui Centre. 2 titles.
As at 2019 Wellington, Kapiti. Super Bowls Singles. 8 titles.
Club Titles & Representations
1972-2000 Wellington Women’s Bowling Club. Member.
2000-2015 The Park (Kilbirnie) Bowling Club. Member.
2015-now Lyall Bay Bowling Club. Member.
As at 2018 84 Club Championship titles.
1990 Queen’s Commemoration Medal, 1990 Commonwealth
1992 Nominated for Sports Wellington Sportswoman of the Year.
1993 Nominated for Sports Wellington Sportswoman of the Year.
1994 Nominated for Sports Wellington Sportswoman of the Year.
1995 Sports Wellington Firestone Fair Play Award. Winner.
2004-2005 New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM).
2010 Awarded Bowls New Zealand Cap.
2013 Sports Legends of Wellington. Inducted.
2013 Bowls New Zealand Hall of Fame. Inducted.
Published with permission from Bowls New Zealand