Some say that he’s Driveline’s elder statesman, and that he’ll leave in a coffin. All we know is he’s called Uncle Laurie. Meet Laurie Brown-Haysom, Driveline lease consultant. From WWII England to the digital age in New Zealand, Laurie has seen more than most.
Laurie Brown-Haysom’s early life was defined by conflict and hardship. He was born in 1941 in the English port city of Portsmouth, at the height of World War II.
“Portsmouth was England’s biggest naval base, getting pounded. My mother says I was the direct result of a German landmine, but I’m not quite certain if that is actually correct,” Laurie Brown-Haysom recalls with a laugh.
His most vivid memories were walking to school through the wreckage, hand in hand with his grandmother, forced to navigate massive craters filled with rusty water and twisted iron.
With his mother gone to serve in the war, Laurie was raised primarily by his grandmother, who he remembers as the most influential figure in shaping his attitudes and resilience.
“She was the dearest person. I never knew my father and didn’t get to know my mother until much later, but my Nana was key to the way I’ve been brought up, many of my attitudes to life in general.”
Laurie credits his nana with instilling in him the values and resilient spirit that would carry him through life’s ups and downs.
Still, it was a gruesome time to grow up. With frequent bombing raids, Laurie’s childhood home was burned to the ground multiple times. And all the row houses on his side of the street had a 5 degree tilt after the house at the end of the street was demolished by a huge bomb.
Immigrating to New Zealand for a Fresh Start
In 1955, at age 14, Laurie immigrated with his family to New Zealand to start a new life.
The dramatic transition from the chaos of wartime England to the peace of New Zealand made an impact on Laurie that he continues to reflect on today. As he puts it…
“It’s something that I think probably is in the back of my mind, continually, and what brings it on is Ukraine. Ukraine has brought that back to mind again.”
But Laurie adapted quickly, doing well in school and sports. He looks back fondly on his years attending Northcote College. Little did he know then how his early days in New Zealand would set him on a winding path across various careers that kept him continually learning and advancing.
Building a Career
After finishing school, Laurie started working for Shell Oil when he was just 17. He quickly rose up the ranks, becoming the youngest Shell representative in the country after just a few years.
“I started as an office junior and worked my way through the ranks for 20 years. And I was the youngest Shell rep in the country. The Bay of Plenty, the plumb area, was my territory, calling on all the service stations and Shell clients.”
Laurie’s big break came when Shell transferred him to Christchurch to oversee their sponsorship of motor racing, which was a perfect fit given Laurie’s passion for the sport.
“Shell were the biggest sponsor for motor racing in the late 60s and early 70s. And they had a big, a sizeable budget. I was in charge of the budget, and that money was spent on sponsoring and promoting New Zealand drivers and doing the same for the overseas drivers that came in every summer to the Tasman race series.”
After 20 years with Shell, Laurie left and bought his own service station and car dealership in Milford on Auckland’s North Shore, which he owned for 5 years. Following that he ran Gold Medal Cars in Grey Lynn, which he owned for 10 years.
Laurie Brown-Haysom & The Sapphires
In his late teens and early twenties while working at Shell, Laurie was in a semi-professional vocal group called The Sapphires. They performed at nightclubs and won the television “Have a Shot” program. Laurie says of this time…
“Just four guys having fun. But made enough for the deposit on my first house.”
Pivoting Again to Finance
After 15 years in the car business, the market began shifting with Japanese import cars and Laurie transitioned into finance.
“The Jap imports came along and I just couldn’t handle the unscrupulous dealings that were going on with imports and speedo flicking and the rest of it.”
So Laurie started a small finance company providing loans from his home office, which he ran for the next 8 years.
This work connected him with Lance Manins, founder of Driveline. Twenty years later, Laurie is still here providing his expertise as an independent lease consultant.
Imparting Wisdom to the Next Generation
Now 82, Laurie takes pride in mentoring younger hires at Driveline.
“I’m now 82 and still going strong. And I think I’m a good part of the Driveline team and the elder statesman, and a bit of a mentor to some of the new guys coming on, and I think I’m quite valuable to Lance and Paul as a third member of the team.”
Lifelong Passion for Sport
Fitness and sports have been lifelong passions for Laurie. He started as a competitive runner, participating in cross country races, relay races and marathons well into his 60s.
“My aim was to run at an average 4-minute kilometre pace, and I did that. And at the Rotorua marathon that works out to about 2h 58m I think, so I broke three hours. But it’s very hard work man.”
He fondly remembers the feeling of accomplishment after completing his first marathon, the first of half a dozen he’s done since.
“I was reflecting afterwards that I was one of the few people in the whole world that had ever run a marathon. They run around the city, but not many people run marathons and I had just done one, and it was pretty special. And most people who do a marathon only ever do one, so to do half a dozen is even more special.”
Later in life, after undergoing multiple hip replacement surgeries, Laurie switched to basketball and indoor rowing to stay active. Even now, he can be found at the gym 3-4 days a week, determined to maintain his fitness despite his age.
“I’m still going to the gym. And still feeling good. And I can still talk!”
Staying Active Through Health Struggles
At just 40 years old, Laurie underwent his first hip replacement to address a congenital defect aggravated by years of running.
After continuing to run marathons on his replacement hips into his 60s, Laurie ultimately required a total of 5 hip surgeries to repair ongoing damage before he decided it was time to give up running.
After switching to indoor rowing and winning a trans-Tasman competition, Laurie also developed atrial fibrillation that now prevents him from high-intensity training.
“There is no fool like an old fool!” says Laurie.
Most seriously, Laurie has battled two bouts of cancer – bowel cancer in 2013 and tongue cancer a few years later. Despite these challenges, Laurie’s commitment to fitness remains steadfast.
Through it all, Laurie has persevered, constantly finding new ways to exercise despite limitations. His unwavering commitment to fitness in his senior years is nothing short of remarkable and inspirational.
“I’m still at the gym three or four times a week. I am strong. I’m quite confident that there’s probably no one in the gym my age that can do what I do. Physical fitness is the best health supplement.”
Finding Purpose Through Work
For Laurie, retirement is not in sight. Now 82, he continues working at Driveline to stay sharp and connect with people.
He finds the work mentally stimulating and enjoys putting his decades of industry experience to use in helping others.
The camaraderie and sense of purpose keep him going too.
Laurie reflects, “I work for two reasons. One of the reasons is that it keeps me mentally on my toes. I enjoy talking to people and getting out and doing stuff. And secondly, I’m not a super wealthy guy, and the money comes in very handy.”
Many of Laurie’s clients are long-time connections that now consider him a trusted friend. He takes pride in guiding nervous, inexperienced clients through the process of finding the right vehicle, drawing on his six decades of experience in the auto industry.
Laurie believes his age and measured, thoughtful approach puts anxious clients at ease. As he says, “I think my age and attitude comes through over the phone.” He takes the time to meet clients in person over coffee if needed, building rapport and trust through open conversation rather than sales pressure.
Giving Back Through Restoration
In his spare time, Laurie pursues hobbies like reading, writing poetry, and restoring furniture. It is the woodworking that he finds most rewarding.
“People bring stuff in that needs to be fixed or tidied up, or I get stuff off TradeMe and turn it into something that I give away. And it’s mostly the wood. I love working with wood. It’s a relaxing thing.”
Reflecting on a Life Well Lived
Despite health struggles and tragedy during the war, Laurie feels blessed to still be thriving after 82 years of nonstop change. He is grateful for his stable, loving family, continuing good health, and fitness.
Laurie feels fortunate to still be active and working in an industry he enjoys. He takes particular pride in having lived through and witnessed immense historical change – from surviving the ravages of World War II to embracing new technologies like cell phones and the internet today.
He believes his varied interests, from classical music to poetry to restoring antique furniture, have contributed to a rich, fulfilling life. Reflecting on a life that has traversed continents and industries, Laurie says…
“I’ve had a very good life. I’m still going to carry on, I’m not over the hill yet.”
Above all else, Laurie credits his longevity and contentment to staying curious and engaged with life. He has no plans to retire fully anytime soon and faces each new day with energy and an open mind.
For Laurie Brown-Haysom, the future remains bright at 82 thanks to a lifetime of perseverance, self-care and passion. His story offers inspiration about the possibilities that open up when we stay active, keep learning and maintain a youthful perspective regardless of age.