William Gunn Leckie. (Billy) 1933 – 2012.
I returned from an instructing job overseas to the sad news that my old Mate Billy Leckie had passed away on June 19th at the age of 78.
Now Billy was well-known for his amateur and professional boxing career where he had an amateur record of 47 fights racking up 36 wins stopping 17 of his opponents.
Billy won both amateur and professional New Zealand titles in the feather weight and bantam weight division’s.
His professional fight record of 25 fights included 13 wins seven by way of knockout.
The Leckie name is synonymous with boxing in New Zealand dating back to the early 1900s when Archie Leckie took a New Zealand middleweight title.
Then come a long line of Leckie's in the ring including Jim Leckie, Bill Leckie senior Johnny Leckie and Billy's brother Dick Leckie.
My friendship and personal association with Billy goes back over 35 years and we had some interesting times indeed, never a dull moment when Billy was involved.
Even before this I had heard of Billy as a youngster as he was a family friend.
In the Fifties Billy Leckie and Joe McNally were local Dunedin boxing identities renowned for their gruelling bouts in the Dunedin town Hall.
The following is a recollection of my association and friendship with Billy from the 70s onwards.
I will recall some of the stories Billy told me of those training and fighting days.
He was truly a local identity and well-known for his lifetime involvement with boxing.
Both Billy and Joe McNally were friends of mine and through them I met many other local and national fight game identities.
In 1975 I opened a small training hall below the Otago boxing Association gym in Princes Street and later when the Otago boxing Association moved out of the larger gym above I took over the lease and operated training out of there.
Billy would pop in from time to time to say hello and check out the lads training there always keen to identify likely lads that he considered showed potential.
When I promoted amateur boxing tournaments and prize fighting Billy was actively involved and later Billy and Joe were always invited and welcomed as VIP's at my shows.
Sometime after Billy closed his boxing gym in North East Valley he took up the coach’s position at the Todd group and truly brought a lot of good humour and enthusiasm into the gym.
Glen Duncan and I were coaching boxing before Billy took over and Glen’s dad had been a friend of Billy’s.
Billy trained many lads there during that time that had good success in the ring and two of his favourites were Tony Maitland and Zac Khouri.
Billy puts Zac through his paces
Tony went onto be the boxing coach at the Todd group and is still a boxing coach today.
The following are recollections of some of the things in no particular order that Billy told me about at the gym or on trips to and from boxing competitions.
He spoke of gentleman Joe and the epic bouts in the Dunedin town hall including the infamous bare knuckle fight they had after going the distance in the ring with gloves on at the town Hall.
He spoke of how Joe and he had been great friends outside the ring and their non-boxing association including drinking hunting dating partying and involvement with the solo parent’s organisation.
He spoke of Paddy McNally and what a character he was in and out of the ring and how he was a real hang man with a huge heart and skills in the ring or on the street to back it up.
He said he was fearless even when up against much bigger and very tough fighters on the street.
Billy had the upmost respect for Colin Kerr as a coach of the sweet science of boxing as he put it and who was a former winner of the prestigious Jamieson belt.
He considered the late Mick Foley to be the best fighter out of the ring he knew and someone who you wanted on your side on the street or in the pub car park. He spoke of how Mick had sorted out some thugs that had taken to him and Joe for no other reason than they had once been well known fighters and this was when they were well retired.
Billy said it was the end of an error when Mick passed away and found it difficult to understand how such a tough fighter and hard worker could die so young.
Billy in his younger day had trained at Harry Baldocks gym now the Todd group and had done some of Harry’s wrestling and Jiu Jitsu training.
He told me of how Harry would tell him to take it easy on the punch bag complaining that Billy was trying to destroy it.
He never forgot some of the pummelling and bridging exercises Harry had taught him and when he took up the position as boxing coach at the Todd group formerly the Baldock Institute he said it was like being back home again but this time coaching not enduring the punishment of Harry’s hard training regime and steadfast rules.
He considered local boxer Nev Bowie to be a prime example of a tough boxer fighter who could have been responsible for a lifelong boxing ban on university campuses as a result of one of his never say die bouts back in the day as Billy would put it.
The Chettleburgh name in Dunedin boxing circles is well known and Billy considered the Chettleburgh’s to be both family and the closest of friends and of course with his daughter Carol marrying Kevin Chettleburgh they certainly were.
I can remember telling Billy I had met his daughter Helen as she worked at a restaurant opposite the nite club where I worked the door for the same family that owned both businesses and right away he wanted to make sure she was safe working there. When I told him it was all good he still asked me to make sure she was safe but not to let her know he was concerned or had asked me to keep an eye out for her.
He would speak of the late Brain Chettleburgh and how he could pick up a large dinner plate in one hand and could punch like a bull.
He would tell me of his V8s and motorbikes and the great parties back in the fight error.
In the gym Billy would be found with that green canvas covered belly pad strapped around his waist and always an accompanying groin protector as he proclaimed you must protect the family jewels.
Billy was very fond of Semi Halalilo or Sam Hayley as we knew him a local heavyweight with a big heart and when Sam was preparing for fights back then using our gym Billy would revel in assisting him with his training and having me sparring Sam as he gave him pointers and I endured the punishment.
Sadly the last time we saw Sam that was Billy Mick and I he was preparing for a fight at the gym and standing up on a bench he gave us his blessing and a farewell and sadly died preparing for that fight in Auckland.
We hosted an amateur boxing tournament at Sammy's entertainment venue and Billy had a smile from ear to ear after Zac Khouri won the best fighter and he won the most successful trainers Trophy.
Boxing was in Billy's blood and he was in his element when he was involved with training promoting or socialising after the fights with other coaches and all fighters and supporters.
We travelled away together to nationals and Golden gloves and the humour and camaraderie was ripe.
In the gym Billy was keen to be involved or around everything that was going on from the unarmed combat to the wrestling and self-defence and would tell the lads of the unarmed combat and wrestling he had learned many years before.
He was always keen back in the early days to help get anyone ready for any type of fight they had coming up.
When MMA come along he enjoyed being part of the local scene and assisting fighters with their punching skills and personally assisted me in this area.
He always liked to end the workout with 10 of the best crosses from his charge.
Billy was always trying to organise something related to boxing whether it would be fund raising exhibitions or competitions.
While many fighters were not keen on female boxing being introduced Billy thought it was all good and you could tell he had ideas for a professional version that would attract fight fans back to the sport. Billy had strong connections on the West Coast and told me he had entrusted much of his precious boxing memorabilia to an acquaintance for safekeeping during his shift back to Dunedin and it all went missing while supposedly in safe storage.
This really did upset and hurt Billy after entrusting records and memories of his boxing career only to find out it was all gone.
Billy would tell me of his training under his cousin Archie Leckie back in the 1950s when Archie was in his mid-70s and how he was treated the same as anyone else in the gym.
I can remember Billy being named coach for the Otago boxing team to go the national championships at the Otago Champs after function at the old Kensington tavern and the weeks building up to the nationals with the team training at Billy's North East Valley gym.
I got my trainers license under the late Ave Luxon in Oamaru and it was both Ave and Billy that assisted me with getting my trainers licence.
Billy training Tank at Todd Group
I assisted both Ave and Billy as part of the trainer’s licence requirements back then where you had to take a corner initially as an assistant and later with the licensed coach acting as your assistant and overseeing you.
Billy later commented he rated some of the boys we had in the gym over the years including Neill Davis, Alistair Mitchell, Stuart Henderson and John Middleton.
Billy spoke to me often regarding his friend and fierce rival in the ring Joe McNally.
He said they had trained at the same gym and sparred each other and before fights would wish each other good luck for a good fight and hope that neither would get seriously hurt.
Billy was courageous and tough and told me even though he had to go up a weight division to fight Joe he would accept the match in a heartbeat as Joe was a fine boxer and tremendous opponent.
I had heard as a youngster of their town hall encounters in the ring and just how bigger following they had and of course there infamous bare knuckle job on the beach.
Respect was something they had for each other and when Joe was hit by a car and seriously injured being confined to a wheelchair, Billy would regularly massaged him.
To me this demonstrated the epitome of respect for a former opponent and it really highlighted their friendship.
Billy called me when Joe passed away and asked me to accompany him to Joe's funeral.
When Billy got up to speak at Joe's funeral myself and many in attendance thought we were going to hear the reasons behind the bare knuckle fight they had at middle beach.
This was not to be the case and we heard of how they went deer hunting at Beaumont and only made it a few hundred metres over the fence before they gave up the hunt and headed back to the local pub.
Having Billy Joe Nev and Miles Singe at the prize fighting I promoted many years back now is unforgettable especially after the fights ended and listening to those hard cases joking with each other.
Billy was always coming up with ideas with one thing in mind returning boxing to the level and following that he experienced in his days in the ring.
Well before women’s boxing came to fruition he organised to have a sparring session in the gym with a female combat sports competitor and was in his element with members of the Otago boxing fraternity in attendance.
Billy had strong links to his birthplace Tapanui and also to the west coast of the South Island and apart from his boxing he loved his hunting especially deer stalking.
Billy had suffered some hard and difficult times in his life ranging from a motorcycle accident that could have ended his fight career to major issues with a property he had on the west coast in relation to the land stability.
He was a fighter and battled on with life regardless and where ever he was living he would get involved with boxing locally.
He often spoke to me of one of his charges he rated in Mike McNamara from Billy’s North East Valley gym.
When Billy moved up Corstorphine where Ross (Daffy) Smail had the local shop Billy was pleased to talk to him about boxing knowing Ross had been in the ring and Ross kept an eye out for Billy as age caught up on him.
Billy liked a beer and his favourite trade mark thin cigars went hand in hand with him socialising and enjoying life.
I can remember Billy looking at other former fighters and commenting on how the effects of the ring had taken their toll on them but he considered himself fighting fit always and no worse for wear.
When Billy found out that Billy Graham and I were friends he told me of what he called the Dick Dunn Billy the Kid partnership that he thought was marvellous and something very special.
He thought what Billy Graham had achieved in and out of the ring and how he showed respect for his former coach as well as including his background in boxing in his public speaking was so good for the sport and testament to the man.
Now Billy had his differences with various coaches and officialdom in boxing fighting hard for what he believed in or wanted but he never let it get him down and he would laugh about this kind of thing when he was with his Mates and in the gym.
Billy had many as he called them oldies and goodies when it came to preparing a fighter for the ring including the old dry rub down to ensure the fighter made weight after the sweat session.
He was adamant that the straight legged sit ups were the only way to do the exercise and when later generations claimed they were bad for your back he just laughed and said never done me any harm or those before me.
Billy would drive old time fighters to fight nights and ensure they were well looked after and got home safely.
I can remember Billy telling me of having to intervene in a confrontation between two ladies and how they were far worse than the men.
He said he had to drag one away kicking and screaming and stop her going back again.
Billy did not take kindly to cowards trouble makers and back stabbers and he told me of one such piece of work that he had the displeasure of working with that he would have liked to have done some character adjustment on.
Billy enjoyed watching the unlicensed boxing film footage I got in the UK from Pretty Boy Shaw and especially the Governor Lenny Mean Machine McLean fighting Roy Pretty Boy Shaw.
The passing of Billy Leckie is truly an end of an error in the legends of the Dunedin town hall professional boxing from back in the 1950s.