Story: Youren, Harold Wilfred
Youren, Harold Wilfred
Lawyer, farmer, farmers’ advocate, peace campaigner
This biography was written by B. Dale Curham and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 5, 2000
Harold Wilfred Youren was born in Auckland on 23 April 1910 to Mary Philpott Pitcher and her husband, David Prinald Youren, a banker. He was educated at Wellington College and gained both Junior and Senior National Scholarships. He then attended Victoria University College and Auckland University College, gaining a Senior Scholarship in law and graduating LLM with double first-class honours in 1933. (He graduated MA in philosophy in 1948 after extramural studies.) Bill Youren was admitted to the Bar in 1932 and gained experience in various courts. He also prepared briefs for E. H. Northcroft.
In 1935 Youren gave up practising law. After taking part in a motorised trek from Adelaide to Perth, he bought Wai-iti, a rolling hill-country sheep and cattle farm of 760 acres, near Rissington, Hawke’s Bay. A practical man, he designed and built a 55-yard-long heavy-traffic suspension bridge spanning a gorge bisecting the farm. Youren married Leila Jewell Rice, a Southland hockey and lacrosse representative and national golf semi-finalist, in Wyndham, Southland, on 13 May 1939. They were to have two sons and a daughter.
After the Second World War Youren began a lifelong involvement in farming affairs and concern for the welfare of fellow farmers. He served as deputy chairman of the Hawke’s Bay Land Sales Committee and he was a member of the 1947–49 royal commission into the sheep industry and the 1959 parliamentary commission to inquire into the meat industry. He campaigned for electricity reticulation to farming areas in the late 1940s and was a foundation director of the Hawke’s Bay Trading Society, a farmers’ co-operative consumer organisation. During the late 1970s and 1980s he intensively lobbied the government on crippling estate duties and convened seminars to discuss estate planning with fellow farmers.
A humanitarian of socialist inclination and an advocate of civil liberties, Bill Youren campaigned for world peace and nuclear disarmament. As vice president of the New Zealand Peace Council he attended peace conferences in India and Ceylon and the 1952 Peace Conference of the Asian and Pacific Regions in Beijing, China. Concerned about the dangers of isolating China, he faced considerable personal criticism as he sought to inform the conservative New Zealand of the 1950s about the historical background and realities of Chinese communism. He actively campaigned against Western and New Zealand military involvement in the Vietnam War.
Bill Youren sought to promote international understanding by means of letters to newspapers and journals, broadcast talks and discussions, seminars, and lectures to adults and school students, and by writing texts for Asian studies courses. He and Leila travelled widely and hosted many Asian students at Wai-iti. He was fluent in several languages, and his international mail filled the farm mailbag.
As president of the Hawke’s Bay Art Gallery and Museum, Youren lobbied local and central government for approval and funding for the Century Theatre (the 1974 Napier centennial project), and he spearheaded the lengthy campaign to bring the Concert Programme to Hawke’s Bay on FM radio. Having visited China again in 1956 and 1960 he was frequently invited to convene exhibitions and give illustrated talks about Chinese art and history.
Often to be seen driving his open 1950 Jowett Jupiter sports car, Bill Youren was a dapper man with a wiry build. He was of ‘frank and engaging’ personality, always prepared to argue for progressive views with ‘moral force, impeccable logic, and clarity of expression’. His lucid mind and dedication to peace drew him into courageous stands on behalf of unpopular causes. Having cared for Leila at the farm until her death from emphysema in 1983, he was determined to avoid the infirmities and dependency of old age. He died at Wai-iti on 19 July 1983, aged 73, as a result of a self-administered overdose of drugs. He was survived by his children, to whom he wrote, ‘I have had a long, challenging and interesting life…’