Bill Rowling

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Bill Rowling
Personal Details
Birth: 15 November 1927
in Motueka, New Zealand
Death: 31 October 1995
in Nelson, New Zealand
Marriage: 1951, to Glen Elna Reeves
Children: Four
Religion: ?
Background: Teacher
Political Details
Electorates: Buller, Tasman
Order: 30th Prime Minister
Political Party: Labour
Premiership
Predecessor: Norman Kirk
Term of Office: 6 September 1974
to 12 December 1975
Duration: 1 year, 3 months, 6 days
Cause of Departure: Lost election
Successor: Robert Muldoon

Sir Wallace Edward Rowling KCMG, (15 November 1927 - 31 October 1995), often known as Bill Rowling, was a Prime Minister of New Zealand. He was in office for just over a year, having been appointed Prime Minister following the death of the highly popular Norman Kirk. Rowling was unable to retain the premiership, but remained leader of the Labour Party for some time after his defeat.

Rowling was born Motueka, near Nelson. He was a member of a long-established farming family. He was educated at Nelson College and the University of Canterbury, gaining a degree in economics. He also attended the Christchurch College of Education, qualifying as a teacher. After completing his education, Rowling taught at several primary schools around the country, including ones in Motueka, Christchurch, and Northland. In 1958, Rowling left teaching and joined the New Zealand Army, becoming Assistant Director of Army Education. He spend a short amount of time serving abroad in Malaysia and Singapore, a deployment connected with the "Malayan Emergency". British author J. K. Rowling is a relative.

In the 1960 election, Rowling was selected as the Labour Party's candidate for the Fendalton electorate in Christchurch. Fendalton was regarded as a safe National seat, and Rowling was defeated by the National Party's Harry Lake (who was appointed Minister of Finance in the new National government). Two years later, however, Rowling successfully contested the Buller by-election, which had been caused by the death of prominent Labour MP Jerry Skinner. Rowling was to hold this seat until the election of 1972, when the seat was dissolved — Rowling then contested successfully the new seat of Tasman.

When the Labour Party won power under Norman Kirk in the 1972 election, Rowling was appointed Minister of Finance. This could be seen as a considerable promotion for someone without prior ministerial experience. Rowling's term as Minister of Finance was somewhat turbulent, with a number of formidable economic challenges arising during his tenure.

When Norman Kirk died unexpectedly in 1974, Rowling emerged as the front-runner to replace him. Kirk's deputy, Hugh Watt, served as Acting Prime Minister for several days while the Labour Party made its decision. Rowling was officially confirmed as party leader and Prime Minister on 6 September 1974. Unlike the pro-life Kirk and Muldoon, Rowling was pro-choice.

In power, Rowling was strongly attacked by the National Party opposition, now led by Robert Muldoon. Rowling was generally portrayed as weak and ineffectual, and this image was to plague Rowling for the remainder of his career. Muldoon once famously said that "you could see the cold shivers running around Mr. Rowling's body seeking a spine to run up — unsuccessfully." Even Rowling's given name (Wallace) was a source of derision. His supporters, however, have denied the characterization Rowling as weak, and say that he was unfairly ridiculed merely because he chose not to participate in the confrontational and aggressive politics that Muldoon favoured.

The 1975 election was a major defeat for the Labour Party, perhaps due to Rowling's poor image and Muldoon's superior media skills. Rowling, however, managed to retain the party leadership, and gradually managed to improve public perceptions of him. In the 1978 election and the 1981 election, Labour actually secured more votes than the National Party, but failed to gain a majority of seats.

While Rowling had largely managed to undo his negative image, many people in the Labour Party nevertheless believed that it was time for a change. In 1982 Rowling was replaced as leader by the charismatic David Lange, who went on to defeat Muldoon in the 1984 election. Rowling retired from parliament at the same election. After leaving politics, Rowling was appointed Ambassador to the United States, serving from 1985 to 1988. He held that position when the issue of nuclear weapons and ANZUS flared up between the United States New Zealand. Later, after returning to New Zealand, Rowling became highly involved in a number of community organizations and trusts. He also played a prominent role at the Museum of New Zealand, and is considered to have been the "driving force" behind the eventual establishment of Te Papa. Honours that Rowling received include being made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, an honorary law doctorate, and being made a Commander in the Orde van Oranje–Nassau (Netherlands).

Rowling died of cancer in Nelson on 31 October 1995.


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