The Houhora Volunteer Fire Force celebrated the presentation of its first Gold Star, in recognition of 25 years' voluntary service, on Saturday night. And some of the credit, it seemed, went to a little girl who became a famous squash player.
Mr Matthews said he and his wife Margaret were next door neighbours to Kaitaia firefighter Colin Kitchen and his wife, Raina, in 1980, Colin asking him if he and Margaret would look after their infant daughter, Trina, should the siren sound while Raina was at work (nursing). The first time the siren sounded "we heard Colin's feet hit the floor, and next thing Trina came over the fence," he said.
It worked well. Trina would snuggle up between her babysitters, and when Mr Kitchen got home he would collect her and return her to her own bed.
Then the Kitchens' second daughter, Shelley, arrived. She wasn't so much a snuggler as a strangler (of Mrs Matthews) and a kicker (of Mr Matthews).
"After a while I thought it would be easier if I joined the brigade too," he said.
He went on to serve 11 years in Kaitaia, then, after brief gap, 18 at Houhora, but it was the big Kaitaia calls that he most readily remembered.
Kaitaia Tractors, the Catholic Church at Awanui, Davina's at Awanui, the Kaingaroa mill, the Innes Tartan building in Kaitaia, St Saviour's Anglican Church in Kaitaia, the town's Princess Theatre - "They all burned down," he said - had been memorable, but his contribution had gone far beyond wielding a hose.
Former Houhora CFO Norm Wagener said it was highly appropriate that Mr Matthews be the first Gold Star recipient.
"He's done the hard yards," he said.
"He brought a lot of experience and knowledge with him when he came up from Kaitaia, as did Guy Herring. What he knew was relevant, important stuff, and we learned a lot from him.
"He was a reliable, loyal deputy CFO too. I couldn't have asked for better."
Mr Kitchen, who described the Houhora Fire Force as highly professional, and paid tribute to firefighters' partners and families for their support, said Mr Matthews had always been a very active member of both organisations. His attendance rate over 29 years had been more than 80 per cent.
His gold star was the 6,951st to be earned in New Zealand in 130 years, he added, noting that only five to seven per cent of recruits made it to 25 years.
Principal Rural Fire Officer Miles Taylor said the fact that some people amassed 25 years' experience was a comfort, while Mrs Matthews had also made a huge contribution.
Former Kaitaia CFO Marsden Jones said Mr Matthews had joined an elite group, and his community should be grateful that he had given so much of his life to serving it as he had.
Houhora CFO Warren Bunn agreed, saying 25 years was a big chunk of anyone's life, adding that Mr Matthews had always been valued for his professionalism and calm demeanour.
He had only seen him rattled once, when he drove a new appliance out of the fire station and took the door with it.
See Thursday's Age for more awards.