A mystery donor

A mystery donor

One day in the early 90s I got a telephone call from one of our clients in Christchurch. His Japanese wife had been working as an interpreter for a gentleman currently living in Christchurch who had expressed a great interest in visiting an organisation carrying out environmental research.  He wondered whether the Cawthron Institute would be a good choice. I explained that we had a lot of contact with Japanese researchers at that time and he would be very welcome. The Japanese gentleman duly arrived, along with his interpreter.

After a tour of Cawthron, I invited Prof Kosuge to join our meeting (Who’s he?  Read here). Our visitor was very deferential and respectful. With amazing candour he explained that he had left his job as head of a large family business in Japan, having shamed himself and his family. He was now a recovering alcoholic, trying to rebuild his life in ” clean and green” New Zealand. Much to our great surprise, he suddenly whipped out a cheque-book, knelt down and on my coffee table wrote out a cheque for $20,000!  The next morning Prof Kosuge asked me “Did you understand that man? He has much money, now he seeks honour”.

On the advice of the Professor we commissioned a local artist to prepare a beautiful illuminated scroll, signed by the Bishop of Nelson and declaring him a “Friend of the Cawthron Institute”.  He was living at the Academy Motel across the road from Canterbury University so, in the staff room of the School of Engineering, I presented this to him in person. When he unwrapped it, there was an audible intake of breath, he jumped to his feet, bowed deeply and started to cry.  What a moment!

That was it, or so I thought. It was the end of our communications. But exactly 12 months later an identical cheque arrived in the mail. The third and last one appeared on the second anniversary, $60,000 in all.  The money was used to buy new microscopes, which we could not have afforded otherwise and which gave a huge boost to our research on phytoplankton and marine biotoxins.

We bought a very fancy Olympus inverted microscope, a bit like this one

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