Dunedin’s loss — “Mr Daffodil” Les Cleveland

Les Cleveland - Rotary Down Under Feb09 CoverLes Cleveland, the engaging, songful, and extremely personable senior businessman and retired company director, experienced in the transport sector, a multimillionaire and philanthropist, long-serving Dunedin Opera Company president, Rotarian, former Otago Regional councillor, and former chairman of the Otago Conservation Board was not the sort of man to seek recognition for his efforts.

Sadly, the self-titled “Mr Daffodil” left us yesterday, after a short illness.

Named as the Otago Gardener of the Year in 2010, Les Cleveland was the man responsible for donating more than two million daffodil bulbs and 8000 rhododendrons that grace many of Dunedin’s public spaces.

In an interview by Debbie Porteous, Les said he inherited his father’s passion for the daffodil, but also confessed to a love of every plant on this good earth, even the gorse.

“When you look at plants and work with plants, it gives you a sense of joy.”

He grew plants because he wanted to make sure something that was slowly being lost from the world in other places – vegetation – would at least remain in his patch.

On their 100ha Saddle Hill property the Clevelands have an extensive garden around their home, as well as blocks of daffodils and smaller native plantings interspersed with blocks containing families of trees, including at least one of every type of New Zealand beech, eucalyptus, kauri, maple, rata and protea.

The blocks were registered under the QEII National Trust, so there was a covenant on them, meaning they would exist in perpetuity, even if the property was sold.

When they arrived there 26 years ago, the whole place was covered in gorse, Mr Cleveland said. He was driven by a desire to future-proof plants.

“I watch people slowly but surely raping and destroying the vegetation of the world and I realise that humans need to have a long-term vision of what we are doing to the planet.” ODT 27.9.10

. . . Snippets

(1967) The Dunedin Opera Company, led by Les Cleveland, purchased the (now Westpac) Mayfair Theatre at 100 King Edward St, South Dunedin. The opera company converted the original cinema, reducing the seating capacity from 862 to 413 by removing the ground floor stalls and advancing the proscenium into the auditorium to achieve a greater stage depth. It has since been operated as a live theatre, particularly for opera.

Les Cleveland - Operation Citrus (ODT 18.8.08)(August 2008) Operation Citrus. Trevor Croot, Peter Jackson, Les Green, Andrew McKinlay and Les Cleveland. Rotary Club of Dunedin delivered nine tonnes of fresh produce to foodbanks, charitable societies and pensioner accommodation around the city. ODT 18.8.08 Photo: Craig Baxter

Les Cleveland - Cleveland Family 1 (ODT 8.2.10) re-image(February 2010) Cleveland family siblings Les, Bernie, Ian, Sherwyn and Doug in Dunedin for the last of 57 family reunions, which started with a promise made to their dying mother Agnes. More than 100 members of the Cleveland family travelled from throughout the world – some from as far away as Egypt, England and Scotland – to attend a family gathering at the Saddle Hill home of Les Cleveland (79). ODT 8.2.10 Photo: Gerard O’Brien (re-imaged by What if?)

Les Cleveland - native trees (ODT 6.7.11)(May 2011) Gale-force winds hit parts of the forest canopy at Woodhaugh Gardens. The gardens received massive damage, but thanks to Les Cleveland and the Dunedin Amenities Society thousands of dollars worth of new native trees [more than 7000 trees] were planted to restore and enhance this section of the Town Belt reserve. ODT 6.7.11 Photo: Peter McIntosh

### ODT Online Thu, 16 May 2013
Les Cleveland dies at 82
Dunedin philanthropist and businessman Les Cleveland has died, aged 82. Mr Cleveland, an Otago Regional councillor and 1998 Dunedin Citizen of the Year, died at Ross Home yesterday morning after a short illness. His funeral will be held on Monday. An obituary will follow.
ODT Link

Posted by Elizabeth Kerr


Filed under Business, Innovation, Inspiration, Media, Name, People, Project management, Property, Site

35 responses to “Dunedin’s loss — “Mr Daffodil” Les Cleveland

  1. Russell Garbutt

    A sad sad loss of a man that thought more of others than himself. A man of the highest integrity and one who contributed to his community. How I wish we had more like him.

  2. Peter

    I never knew Les Cleveland personally, but he came across as genuine. Unlike some other locals who tout themselves as well meaning philanthropists/benefactors, ie those who give a token with one hand, take a lot more with the other. No need to name names as we know who those creeps are, don’t we.

  3. Hype O'Thermia

    He did an enormous amount to make Dunedin better and more interesting. Compare & contrast — pick-a-name from large list firmly attached to their monogrammed rates titty-bottles, even when they’re in, ah, Queenstown, Wanaka, China………….
    He did so many good community deeds, not just money but also his own efforts, and he involved people to enjoy being part of them, didn’t exploit other people’s finances to accomplish them for his personal glory – or profit.
    Councillors and other “names” around the city might take lessons from an example of what GOOD reputation means. When they’re dead everyone has some nice things said about them, difference is the number and the sincerity. Les Cleveland leaves a great many people, even those like me who didn’t know him personally, with memories of a man whose public presence was all about doing worthwhile things, not for the sake of his ego but for the good of his community.

  4. daseditor

    Les was a very fine person with a generous heart and a passion for plants and people. He has left a fine legacy to this city and he will be deeply missed by many. This a time to remember his good works and his generosity of spirit rather than the motives of others. http://wp.me/v7k2

  5. Hype O'Thermia

    Wasn’t Les Cleveland doing some plant breeding work? I hope someone with a similar passion is allowed access to his notes and the plants resulting from his work. I can’t remember whether it was daffodils or other plants. Can anyone else remember reading about it?
    What an astonishing fellow, the number and variety of things he was interested in, and active in as well! There’s not a lot like him around anywhere, ever. Dunedin was very lucky.

  6. Dave M

    His energy and enthusiasm for community projects was a great example for us all. A life well lived.

    Trivia: Les won a Frigidaire Flowing Heat Tumble Clothes Dryer on this episode of ‘It’s in the Bag’ (1974): http://www.nzonscreen.com/title/its-in-the-bag-1973

    • ### ODT Online Sat, 18 May 2013
      Council will adjourn for Cleveland funeral
      By Debbie Porteous
      Monday’s Dunedin City Council meeting will start and adjourn earlier to accommodate the funeral of Dunedin philanthropist and businessman Les Cleveland.
      Read more


      Dunedin Mayoral Statement 17.5.13

  7. Hannah

    Thanks for all of the lovely comments about my Grandfather

  8. Hype O'Thermia

    He richly deserves every word and more. Sympathy to you, Hannah, and to all the family. We here are acknowledging what he meant to us, to Dunedin, yet you have lost all that and so much more.

  9. Wendy poole

    Thanks for your kind words. Dad was breeding different varieties of daffodils but he also was doing other native plant crosses. You may want to look out for one it’s quite special, it’s a cross between a southern rata and a pohutakawa. It’s a hardier tree than the pohutakawa so can grow in the south. It’s called “Cleveland “. Thanks again. Wendy

  10. Hype O'Thermia

    Aha! Thanks, Wendy. I was pretty sure there was something other than daffodil in your Father’s plant breeding trials. Is it available commercially yet? I’d like to see it used in city plantings both for its own qualities and because it is another of the great things about Dunedin, a special plant bred here by a special Dunedin man. We’re a bit slack about memories. Look at the comments about heritage buildings – old, so knock ’em down! Memories; heritage; pride in past events, inventions and heroes – these are not anti-progress, these are inspirational/aspirational markers of where today came from, suggestions about the best tracks to explore tomorrow.

  11. Hype O’Thermia.
    Les bred many plants – a whole range of stuff that included especially kowhais and magnolias as well as those daffodils. Along his driveway is a row of cultivar kowhais that he collected, selected or bred. He was working on breeding a red magnolia and had got a fair way towards one that met his expectations. The latest of these has very intensive colour that could well be marketed. It will be in his garden.

  12. Hype O'Thermia

    Many thanks for that additional information, daspres. I’m so glad this site has made a place where his achievements are on record. I’d like to see a site of photographs and such cross-breeding info as is appropriate at this time, to put on record Les Cleveland’s plant breeding experiments and successes, also to provide a record of the time these were done to establish “intellectual property”, making sure credit continues to be given where it is due. What do you think of that idea?

    • Good Idea Hype O’Thermia. Obviously a little time is needed before that subject should be broached but he had gardening staff who would be able to advise on such detail.

  13. Colin Campbell

    I knew Les from my involvement with the Dunedin Operatic Society and Dunedin Opera Company in the 1960s. I was priviledged to have been in many productions with him.
    He had personality, happiness and exuberance that endeared him to all he met. I learned so much from him.
    Dunedin will miss him.

      • ### ch9.co.nz May 20, 2013 – 6:53pm
        Packed service at First Church to bid farewell
        A packed First Church bid farewell to a man for whom community service came first. Dunedin philanthropist and businessman Les Cleveland died last week, aged 82. Those at his funeral heard of a man who made the most of what he had, but with others at the forefront of his thinking.


        Queen’s Birthday Honours 1995
        Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) – Civil Division
        Leslie Hambleton Cleveland – of Dunedin. For services to the community.

        • http://www.facebook.com/twlnz

          Gough TWL
          Les Cleveland

          It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the founder of Gough TWL Les Cleveland OBE.

          Les Cleveland was many things, a successful businessman, regional councillor, opera singer, conservationist, philanthropist and gardener. Les’ efforts in the former resulted in his receiving the Otago Region Gardener of the Year Award in 2010.

          Other recognitions such as his OBE in 1995 and Dunedin Citizen of the Year in 1997 are a testament to his contributions both to the Otago Region and New Zealand as a nation.

          Les’ passion for gardening saw him donate more than two million daffodil bulbs and 8000 rhododendrons that grace many of Dunedin’s public spaces today.

          For the Gough TWL team, we are most thankful for the company he formed from humble beginnings in his private garage in Dunedin in 1966.

          Almost 50 years later, we remember Les as larger-than-life. He was certainly ahead of his time in many respects in regards to the environment and culture he created for his staff.

          The TWL Fairfield, Dunedin head office of the 1970s featured a squash court and full-time cook, with fresh baking for the team at morning and afternoon teas. Les genuinely worked hard for his team and they reciprocated in kind.

          Today we thank Les for establishing what we believe is a special team culture in one of New Zealand’s greatest and most enjoyable industries in which to work.

          The Gough Group team would like to offer their deepest condolences to the Cleveland family and particularly Les’ sons Peter and Ray who have both been a big part of the TWL and Gough Group family over many years.

        • Leslie Hambleton Cleveland 1931- 2013

          Funeral Service – First Church, Dunedin
          20 May 2013

          Officiating: Rev Anne Thomson and Tricia Warwick
          Organist: Donald Moorhead

          Mary Thomas – Daughter
          Ian Page – Dunedin Opera Company
          Gladys Hope – Operatic Society
          Arnold Bachop – Musical Tribute
          Craig Radford – Dunedin Rotary Club
          Neville Peat – Otago Regional Council & Otago Conservation Board
          Daphne Hull – Central Otago Rail Trail
          Margaret Cleveland

          Les Cleveland funeral, First Church 20.5.13[Image: Channel 39]

        • ### DScene 22.5.13
          Beauty made a priority (page 7) #bookmark

          Les Cleveland 2007 (DScene 22.15.13 page 7)[Image: DScene]

  14. I remember a fantastic visit to their property by the South coast garden group (Riverton) he sang “If I were a rich man” for us and Margaret gave us a beautiful lunch. Janice Templeton

  15. Dianne

    We must not forget the Cleveland Art Awards which provided opportunities for many local artists. Les was a man of great foresight.

    • Dianne – just to add, I was invited to curate the Cleveland Art Awards in 2002. There was a great team of helpers to mount and place the works in a very short time; the number of works received was outstanding as happened for each of the annual awards competitions – so numerous, we could only display roughly a third of those received for exhibition in the then Cleveland Living Arts Centre, upstairs at Dunedin Railway Station. I know we took particular care that year to place works in imaginary dialogue with each other. We had a great time!

      I was on the Southern branch committee for New Zealand Institute of Architects in the early 2000s when we leased a gallery space (The Architecture Centre) within the Arts Centre for our monthly meetings. During this time and I and others curated exhibitions of architects’ work there and throughout the other gallery spaces on occasion. We also hosted architect talks, architecture awards ceremonies and other public events at the Cleveland. It worked really well for us, with the Arts Centre gaining fees for gallery hireage and catering supplied.

      Les’ concept for the Cleveland Living Arts Centre was a particularly good one – it brought the opportunity and delight for art and art making to many adults and children over the years.

      This aside, I had a much earlier connection with Les and his family. As mentioned at his funeral yesterday by daughter Mary Thomas, the Cleveland family had lived in Fairfield. This was directly across the road from the house my maternal grandparents built in Flower Street. My mother and her four siblings were roughly Les’ age – my cousins and I were of equivalent age to Les and Connie’s children. My uncle, aunt and three cousins lived further down Flower Street, a mere hop and skip from Les’ house.

      Mary’s comments on growing up with father Les included a little story about the field mice she captured in a shoebox and took inside to the ladies taking tea, where upon the lid came off… a Mrs Patterson was mentioned in this short debacle, my grandmother Eliza (Lil).

      Happy memories.
      Elizabeth Kerr

  16. I first met Les around 30 years ago. I had been working with his daughter Wendy in London and was travelling around NZ. Wendy had given me his address and when I reached Dunedin I contacted him [and Connie his first wife]. They invited me to stay with them. Ray, Wendy’s brother, picked me up and all three of them were very kind to me during my stay. I even got roped into taking part on the Dunedin Opera’s float during the festival that year!
    Later I ended up moving to Dunedin and would occasionally run into Les around town. He was always very cheerful. He certainly contributed a lot to Dunedin in numerous ways and will be greatly missed not only by his family but also the wider community.

  17. Sukhi Turner

    So wonderful to read the loving memories and comments of so many. Les was very special to me. He was so courageous and generous in supporting me during my time as Mayor of the Dunedin. He was a great mentor and I learned a great deal from him about the joys of living and working to benefit the Dunedin and its citizens. l will miss you very much.

  18. Peter

    How many of us miss yourself, Sukhi, with your time as Mayor of Dunedin. Always appreciated how you had the courage to speak up and not cave in to the Old Boys’ Network.

  19. Very sad but such is Life…..Isabel Witty ChCh NZ

  20. Telepathy in family perhaps, Clairvoyance also

  21. Elizabeth

    ### dunedin-amenities-society.org.nz Fri, 16 Oct 2015
    New Post: Tribute to Les Cleveland
    By daseditor
    Drive around Dunedin in the spring and Les Cleveland’s contribution to the city is evident in many of our most public places. His energy and drive to beautify Dunedin and provide people with pleasure is instantly recognisable in the thousands of daffodils that he donated and planted here. It was a great pleasure for the Society to contribute with Rotary in creating a fitting memorial to Les in a picturesque area of the Town Belt adjacent to Olveston.
    Read more + Images


    ### ODT Online Fri, 16 Oct 2015
    Les Cleveland memorial unveiled
    A memorial to Dunedin philanthropist and businessman Les Cleveland was unveiled beside Queens Dr, near Olveston, yesterday. […] Mr Cleveland, who died in May 2013, aged 82, was the self-titled “Mr Daffodil”, having donated more than two million daffodil bulbs and 8000 rhododendrons that grace many of Dunedin’s public spaces. He was also an Otago regional councillor, former chairman of the Otago Conservation Board, long-serving Dunedin Opera Company president, singer, Rotarian, Dunedin Citizen of the Year (1998) and Otago Gardener of the Year (2010).
    Read more

    39 Dunedin Television Published on Oct 14, 2015
    Floral philanthropist recognised with memorial
    A memorial to a local philanthropist has just been unveiled. The tribute recognises the life’s work of a late Rotarian, who helped to beautify the city with daffodils. But his work with flowers isn’t all he’s known for.

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