Ian Crabtree’s Life

Ian Maxwell Crabtree (1922-2002)

A life fulfilled

A man who valued friendship

Ian Crabtree packed a lot of life into his 74 years. He had an enormous capacity for friendship and a lively interest in people. He would strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere and was involved in many organisations and societies. He also went to a wide range of public lectures that reflected his interests in religion, social policy, science, literature and art.

Although never marrying and having children of his own, he was a much-loved uncle of his nieces and nephews and took a great interest in young people: their hopes, struggles and achievements.

Ian was born in Morrinsville in the Waikato and spent his early years in Hamilton with his parents and two younger sisters. When he was nine, the family moved to Auckland and he later attended Auckland Grammar School.

An advocate of Christian values

Ian was a member of the Wesley Methodist Church in Wellington’s Taranaki Street from the 1950s, but his Christian involvement was not confined to the Methodist denomination: he was a familiar face in other inner-city churches, too.

The Sea of Faith and the Ephesus Group were significant communities for him, in which he met with others equally committed to finding relevant, contemporary expressions of Christianity. He brought a lively and rigorous enquiry to his religious expression and served on many church boards and committees.

At Ian’s funeral, Methodist minister Rev Dr Jim Stuart said, “I shall remember him as the kind of Christian who embodied the best of being a Methodist: a warm heart, an inquisitive mind, an open and inclusive spirit, a seeker of truth and an endearing sense of humour”.

Committed to his career

As an engineer with a lifelong interest in safety and training in the electricity industry, Ian is credited with saving many lives through his electrical safety initiatives.

He studied at the Auckland University College and the National School of Engineering, Canterbury, graduating in 1951 with a BE (Elect.). In 1956-57 he was awarded a Confederation of British Industries Scholarship, allowing him to get work experience in the United Kingdom. He traveled by ship, earning a return voyage by working as an onboard engineer.

His valuable contribution to the power industry was recognised in 2001 when the Electricity Engineers’ Association of New Zealand awarded him their meritorious service award, following his 50 years of professional work.

A man who made a difference

Little things add up to a lot

Ian had a wide range of interests and concerns in his local community. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Wellington North for many years, served as treasurer for the Marriage Guidance Council in the 1960s, was a member of the Karori Historical Society in the suburb where he lived, and his voluntary work at Zealandia reflected his deep love of nature and tramping.

Expanding his horizons

Travel with education in mind

Ian’s career took him to many interesting places, including overseas. Ian didn’t take holidays for the sake of having them instead, he looked for opportunities to combine travel with education – including Summer academies organised by English Universities and study tours to the Middle East with acclaimed New Zealand theologian and mathmatician Sir Lloyd Geering. 

Variety and Vitality

Expressive Arts

Ian was involved in various organisations associated with the arts. He sang in the Wesley Church Choir and the renowed Orpheus Choir, New Zealand’s premier symphonic choir.

When Ian became ill in 2001 it motivated him to bring forward a personal project which he was saving for his retirement – a monograph of his uncle Maxwell Billens Rudd, a gifted and promising poet who tragically passed in his 20s.

Here are two of Maxwell’s poems featured in Ian’s book, All Things Bright & Beautiful.


Blossom of the orchard hung

In the early Summer weather,

O so soft, and O so soft,

Like a cloud and like a feather,

Thou art not so fragile – fair

As my lover – a sigh might waft her

Through the lovely Summer air

Call her, blossom, hist her – after,

She will answer with her rare

Laughter, blossom, laughter.*


Little Miri’s lips are red

Like Pohutukawa flowers,

Blossoms twin and blossoms wed,

Laughing through the laughing hours.

When Pohutukawa bloom

Mantles early, ’tis a sign

* 24 December 1923, Auckland. As published in Right Review, No 5, Janruary 1938, (16)