Obituary – Cip Sparrow

When Cip Sparrow died on November 10, he left behind a business legacy that was born in 1887 and is still going strong today.

Cip was the 10th child in a family of 13 and was always destined to follow his father and grandfather into the Sparrow family’s clothing business.

He, along with three of his brothers, became clothing retailers, and while the others eventually left, Cip stayed the distance.

Cip Sparrow and grandaughter

He cut his teeth in the business delivering accounts and parcels by bicycle before officially starting work in 1938 as a 16 year old.

Until not long before his death, Cip was still working in an off-shoot of that business, the New Zealand Sock Company.

At the age of 90 he would turn up to work every day to do whatever was needed although he had officially retired in 1984.

He received his education at Allenton School and later at Ashburton Technical College.

The large Sparrow family lived on five acres on Allens Road in a large house with seven bedrooms.

Like many young men of his era, Cip’s career was interrupted by service in World War Two.

He was a member of the 7th and 2nd Canterbury regiments and then transferred to the RNZAF. He served overseas in 1944 and 1945 as a wireless operator.

With the war behind him, Cip returned to Ashburton and the family business. That was the signal for his father William John to retire and hand the business over to the next generation.

When he came back from overseas, Cip married Marie and the couple had five children – Margaret Ann who died at three days, Euan, Lyn who died at 14 months, Lois, and Tony, who died in January.

Cip’s time at Sparrows was during the era of ties, suits and hats, when men went to work dressed formally.

It was a work habit Cip never abandoned.

Each day even when he was working only a few hours a day, when he went to work, he always dressed for the job.

He was a man who was always smartly turned out, even when he was digging in the garden.

As a third generation clothing retailer, it would have been easy for Cip to sit back and simply grow the family business. But he was a man who liked a challenge and in 1979 with son Euan decided to enter the manufacturing world, buying local company Phaup’s Hosiery.

He took his manufacturing gamble one step further buying the knitting machines that were part of the Mosgiel Knitwear business that had gone into receivership.

They had no experience in hosiery, no idea how to work their newly-acquired machinery, but with typical hard work and endurance, they set up a fledgling sock manufacturing business that laid the foundation for today’s highly successful, international trader, the New Zealand Sock Company.

Cip may have handed over the running of the family’s businesses to Euan in 1984, but he remained an integral part of the Sparrow brand.

While his business and his family were at the centre of his life, Cip also found time to become involved in a wide range of community groups and organisations.

He was a member of the MSA orchestra, a member of the Ashburton Lions Club for 34 years, and Savage Club, a life member of the Ashburton RSA, Allenton Rugby Club, Ashburton MSA, Automobile Association, Ashburton Road Safety Committee and St John.

He was on the board of Trustbank and received an Ashburton District Council civic honours award in 1997. He was also a past president of the Mid Canterbury Rugby Union and played in the rep team in 1953.

Cip may have been the quintessential businessman and a man with his community in his heart, but above everything else in his life, his family was number one, his children and his grandchildren his pride and joy.

– By Sue Newman