From an orphanage in England to celebrated inventor, scientist and New Zealander of the year – Sir Ray Avery’s life is a quintessential rags-to-riches story.
Born in Kent, England, Avery grew up without parents. He moved from orphanages to foster homes, where he says he endured mistreatment and “systematic abuse”. Dyslexia and hearing problems compounded his problems, to the extent Avery has said just surviving childhood was the hardest thing he’s ever done.
By 14, Avery says he was sleeping rough and getting into trouble with police, but also finding sanctuary at the public library, where he managed to keep warm – and educate himself.
From there, he was taken under the wing of a teacher who encouraged him to go to an agricultural college where he graduated as a scientist and began work conducting experiments.
An impulse decision saw him pack up and move to New Zealand in 1973, where it took him just nine months to become a citizen.
He continued his experiments in Auckland, eventually taking a role as technical director of Douglas Pharmaceuticals. He moved to the Fred Hollows Foundation in 1992, where he concentrated on treating blindness in the developing world. Avery founded Medicine Mondiale in 2003.
Avery has a galaxy of supporters and backers, from the patron of his Medicine Mondiale foundation, singer Neil Finn, to media partnerships with Herald publisher NZME and corporate and professional firms as sponsors. He won the award for New Zealander of the Year in 2010, in part for his role working with the Fred Hollows Foundation on producing lenses to those suffering from cataracts and was knighted by John Key’s National government in 2011.
He now lives with his wife and two young daughters in Mt Eden and, by all accounts, considers himself a family man. But he wasn’t always that way.
Alongside the rags-to-riches narrative runs Avery’s widely-acknowledged promiscuity-to-monogamy subplot.
In his 2010 autobiography Ray Avery: Rebel With A Cause, Avery describes the penchant for women of his past life as a way to compensate for being an orphan. It’s something he frequently touches on when telling his life story at speaking events, and was even raised by his wife – Anna Avery – in an interview with the Herald’s Michele Hewitson, when she produced a “montage of photographs of some of his former conquests”.
Avery also appears to be big on running his own doomsday clock – tallying how many days he is likely to have left on earth and form goals accordingly – and advocating we do the same.
As of writing this, Avery reckons he has about 4800 days left to achieve what he says he’s set out to do. That’s the number he gave Lisa Owens in an interview with Newshub earlier this month anyway (4793 to be precise).
Which is odd, given he told the Herald on September 12, 2015, that he had 4733.
Either way, he’s plotting his “exit strategy”.
“My lovely wife who is now coming on board, doing the marketing … she’ll be the face that will continue the charity after [I’m gone]. We’re actually rebranding my charity Medicine Mondiale to the Sir Ray Avery Foundation as part of that exit strategy.”