Named after his father, on the 10 March 1927, James Nicholas McDonald II was the first born to James Nicholas I “Manny” MacDonald and his wife Helena (Horina) Isabel neé Phillips in Blenheim. Brothers Haua Detoma “Mugwi”, Iwingaro Milton “Iwi” and sister Isobel Helena Olympia followed over the next eight years.
In 1935 at the young age of 27, their mother Helena passed away after a short illness in which nine year old Cappy cared for her. This left the four siblings in the care of their fluent Māori speaking grandparents Hoani (Jack) MacDonald (son of George Teoti MacDonald and Rina Puhipuhi Meihana) and Mary Christina (Polly) neé Sciascia (daughter of Nicola Sciascia and Riria McGregor – who was the daughter of Teone McGregor).
Initially the whānau remained at the Wairau Pā but in later years moved to Aniseed. Manny went on to marry Tauru (Darkie) Phillips and have another 17 children – Pena, Nui, Sonny, Reatha, Lydia, Maude, Ngatikuia I*, Kahu, Chicky, Ngatikuia, Phillip, Marcia, Moira, Hanna, Brigham, Milly and Koepa*, including two who passed away as children. Nicknamed “Cappy” because being the eldest made him the captain of the ship, he particularly adored his grandfather Hoani and often remarked he couldn’t wait to see his grandfather in heaven.
Cappy attended the original Wairau Pā school and with his brother Mugwi were the last two surviving pupils of that school. When the whānau moved to Aniseed and Pukata to open and operate the local dairy, they attended Aniseed School, Kaikoura College and then returned to Marlborough High School. He biked to Blenheim every day to attend college until he bought a motor bike. Driving would later become a passion where he exercised his heavy foot until the age of 88.
At age 14, as part of a school project, Cappy drew a Cessna plane in extraordinary detail for his age. This led to his career as a Draughtsman which started with Lands and Survey in Wellington. He then moved his small family to Samoa where he became the Chief Draughtsman of Western Samoa who, with a team surveyed Western Samoa before Samoan Independence from New Zealand on 1 January 1962.
Notably, he drew the Coat of Arms for the newly independent Samoa. He moved back to work on the family farm after leaving Samoa but got kicked in the back by a cow, an injury which meant he had to leave the farm. He continued on as a Draughtsman/Cartographer for the New Zealand Railways where he drew maps of the rail network including the first plans for the Britomart Station in the early 70s. He yearned to play golf at his ‘discretion’ so he left his draughting career to open a dairy in Wadestown and drive taxis in Wellington City.
On 10 January 1951 aged 23, Cappy married the love of his life Karangaranga (Bub) Sarah Phillips at the Grovetown Hall where sister Isobel was a bridesmaid and Bub’s brother Jack Phillips was the best man. Cappy and Bub were blessed with 7 children – Marilyn, Joy, April, Raewyn, Sheree, JoAnn and finally a son Alec. At aged 3 Alec accidentally fell into a boiling hot bath and his long-term injuries meant he became a much-loved focal point for the whānau and especially Bub who cared for him full time. In 2003 the whānau were devastated by the passing of April after a year long illness aged only 49 years. Alec later passed away in 2005 aged only 40 years. With 13 grandchildren and 37 great grandchildren (and one on the way), the legacy of Cappy and Bub is well taken care of.
The whānau moved around over the years, from Wellington to Samoa for work, to Newlands in Wellington and then Newcastle in New South Wales when he was 60 to become a bricky’s labourer after the Newcastle earthquake. He finally retired to Foxton for six years before returning to the Wairau where he built a house on whānau land. He remained in the whānau house until his passing and his children continue to live there.
Cappy rowed for Wairau and played rugby for Moutere but he was renowned for being a family man, who placed priority on activities with his wider whānau. In 1968, he was a key organiser of the MacDonald Reunion at Omaka Aerodrome, Blenheim where he produced the family records. In 1972, he played a key part in the McGregor Reunion in Foxton as the genealogist where he produced the McGregor Reunion book. In 1996, he travelled with a whānau group to Trani Italy, the birthplace of his great grandfather Nicola Sciascia. He was also on the organising committee for the opening of the new Wairau Pā School.
Brothers Cappy, Mugwi and Iwi had a great love of golf that lasted many decades. In 1968 Mugwi and Iwi won the Greensome golf tournament at Rārangi, a feat repeated by Cappy and Mugwi in 2008. In an effort to improve the standard of Marlborough’s level of play, they created the MacDonald Cup interclub competition which continues to this day.
Cappy was a humble man of great integrity who lived a life of generosity to others, in the same vein as his Grandpa Jack. He was a hard worker of a bygone era whose focus was his family and his wife of 66 years. He gave a lifetime of service to his wider whānau which resulted in records which will forever guide the MacDonald, McGregor and Sciascia whānau whānui. He ensured visitors to his home were treated well. If you walked into his home, he would insist that you sat and ate, even if it was the last of the whitebait he had just caught from his secret position on the Wairau River.
If you ever asked him how he was, he would always say “just the same” until six months ago when he would say “I’m not very well”. After a long battle with prostate cancer Cappy passed away at home surrounded by 3 generations of his descendants. He was the eldest member of the MacDonald whānau and of Rangitāne o Wairau. He was one of a kind and will be remembered for the generous legacy he left behind for all of us.
He Kōtuku Rerenga Tahi
The flight of the Kotuku is seen but once