When it comes to a universal flu vaccine and the cure for cancer, few would guess their origins may lay with a Queenstown cow called Topsy.
But, remarkably, a cow owned by Queenstown-born Len Malaghan as a boy led to the creation of iconic Kiwi ice cream brand Tip Top, and the proceeds from that business helped create a cutting edge medical research institute.
The ice cream staple co-founded by Malaghan in 1936 hit the headlines this week after it was sold by dairy giant Fonterra to UK-based Froneri, owned by Nestle and R&R Ice Cream, for $380 million.
It had been owned by Fonterra for 18 years.
Malaghan’s son, Graham Malaghan, is currently in the resort, where the family still owns property.
He says the Tip Top story began with his father milking cows in Queenstown, including the aforementioned Topsy, who lent her name to the famous brand.
He later opened a milk bar with friend Albert Hayman in Wellington.
More milk bars followed, and then they started making their own ice cream instead of having it shipped in.
“They were very ambitious and progressive, very entrepreneurial” Graham says.
“You can’t do these things without having some leadership.”
He’s not sure how much of a difference the new overseas ownership of the company will make.
“They are going to retain manpower in Auckland, and they’re using New Zealand products, so I guess that’s good.
“We can only wish them success.”
Len died in 1967, after developing Hodgkin’s disease.
Before he died, he and wife Ann made a hefty donation to the Wellington Medical Research Foundation, which was used to establish the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research.
The institute, which has 110 employees, has been chaired by Graham for 30 years.
Work occurring at the facility includes cancer research and parasitic diseases, while an American team is also using the facility to research a universal flu vaccine.
“It’s a wonderful legacy,” Graham says.
“From a milk bar to there, it’s really a stunning story.”
The Malaghans also helped to fund several projects around Queenstown, including the former Malaghan Library.
But Graham says his parents didn’t like to advertise their philanthropy.
“They were reasonably private people.”
Queenstowners will also be familiar with the family name thanks to Graham’s great-uncle Michael Malaghan, who was mayor of the Queenstown Borough Council from 1872-1874.