Andrew Alderson: Remembering the warm and generous Willie Los’e

Willie Los’e in his role as Sky Sport commentator. Photo / photosport.nz

Few broadcasters in the Newstalk ZB and Radio Sport stable of yesteryear were cherished by colleagues as much as Willie Los’e, who has died aged 55.

The former Tongan rugby international, who played at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, went on to become a core member of the Sevens World Series circuit commentary team. He was set to call the World Cup in Cape Town this weekend.

That television career emerged after time spent behind the radio microphone as an expert analyst on the NPC, Super Rugby and All Blacks tests. Los’e soon morphed into a general sports talkback host and, at one point, was the understudy to Murray Deaker on his weekend Scoreboard show.

Los’e subscribed to a put-your-hand-up-not-out philosophy and remains one of the most charismatic people to stride into our workplace.

Charm radiated from behind a mustache of Magnum PI-standard bristle, a polished dome embracing his baldness and a fitness regime which often had him preparing for a show in lycra after dashing away from a Les Mills’ spin class.

On that note, Los’e had a Milan-like fashion compass.

He often gave the impression of stepping from the pages of GQ to magnetise a crowd. There was a white tuxedo donned for a function in Wellington, citrus-toned pants and a pink shirt for a summery day of tennis at Stanley St, a raspberry beret, crimson strides and a black-and-white houndstooth jacket at Eden Park for the rugby. A crooked little finger as part of any ensemble was a permanent reminder of his dedication di lui to playing sport at the top level.

Los’e is remembered principally among the media community for a generous and inclusive nature.

Newstalk ZB Weekend Sport broadcaster Jason Pine noted that when you went out for a drink with Los’e, “every round felt like his round” such was Willie’s determination to ensure everyone had a good time. He was a gold medal contender for whipping his wallet out first at social functions.

Former Christchurch-based Newstalk ZB sports anchor Brian Ashby remembers Los’e visiting Canterbury for work and his manners afterwards “going around the building thanking everyone from the techs to the accounts team who had set up his accommodation”.

This writer can concur with Willie’s sense of largesse. One night, in Hong Kong on the eve of the 2006 Sevens, my accommodation fell through and Los’e stepped up to offer his room without quibble, curtailing any need to walk the streets all night or squander life savings on a hotel at short notice during the annual rugby festival.

Like all broadcasters, Los’e had his share of on-air gaffes – unlike many, he laughed them off with charm. His endearing nature di lui, tendency towards self-deprecation and an unimpeachable chutzpah meant people tended to chuckle with him, not at him when he thundered about the four-letter word ruining rugby … “scrums”.

He was also peerless dancing around the studio to the likes of Earth, Wind and Fire’s September during program interludes. That seems fitting. There “never was a cloudy day” when you worked with Willie Los’e.

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