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Vale - Tony Gibbs

Posted at 11:50am Monday 29 Jun, 2020

Tony Gibbs

14 January 1948 - 14 June 2020

More than 300 people crowded into The Stables Restaurant in Matakana for a service to celebrate the life of New Zealand business giant and Matakana orchardist Tony Gibbs, who died on June 14.

Tony's casket was carried in by members of the New Zealand Defence Force in recognition of Tony's role as patron of the force's Limited Services Volunteers programme, which delivers youth programmes to develop self-discipline and team building skills.

Younger brother Jeff Gibbs recalled growing up with Tony in Titirangi, which he described as an ideal childhood filled with bikes, horses and sailboats.

An early clue to Tony's business acumen came during games of Monopoly, when Tony would convince Jeff of the value of owning railway stations and utility companies, while Tony himself would collar more valuable real estate in Mayfair and Park Lane.

“I learnt from Tony that location is everything. The last quarter of the board was Death Valley for me,” he joked.

Nevertheless, Tony was not especially fond of school. Celebrant Nicola Morrison of Jason Morrison Funeral Services, said Tony left at 15 without School Certificate and took a job peeling potatoes on a boat bound for England. One of his fond memories was ringing the bell at midnight on New Year's Eve as the ship steamed its way down the Panama Canal. On arrival, Tony continued to travel, working variously as a gardener in a bombed-out castle, at a zoo in Italy, a building site in Denmark and a kibbutz in Israel.

He returned to England and became a management trainee for the Army & Navy Stores. His then girlfriend introduced him to another girl, Val. Tony instantly knew Val was the girl he was going to marry and did so in 1970. The couple sailed for New Zealand, believing it would be a better place to raise their children. Tony secured a job with Comalco as a production manager and came up with the idea of rewarding whoever produced the most aluminium in a single week with chickens and beer. Production soared.

He later went to work as a “man Friday” for entrepreneur Brian Dowdle. Brian owned a fleet of Space Invader machines and one of Tony's jobs was to regularly empty the machines of coins. Brian encouraged Tony to set up a billiard table import business and it proved an enormous success. By the time he sold it at age 30, Tony had made enough money to retire.

Tony next turned his attention to the sharemarket. He studied it assiduously and found himself crossing swords with Ron Brierley over the purchase of shares in George Courts. Brierley spotted Tony's talents and invited him to join Brierley Investments. Friend and business associate Rob Flannagan said Tony would identify companies that had lost their way and then select people to guide them in a more positive direction.

“The focus was always on what happens to the people. Are we doing the right thing? Can we grow them? Can we place them somewhere else?” Rob said. “Remember, people run businesses.”

Later business ventures included growing mandarins in Matakana and avocados in Tapora.

Daughter Charlotte Gibbs said her Dad loved the fact that he was growing real food that real people bought in real supermarkets.

“Dad believed in real things and real people. He admired transparency and honesty,” she said.

She said her father used to say, “Cast your bread upon the waters and it will come back as cake.” He meant that if you wanted to achieve something you must have the courage to try. You must have a dream and the bigger the dream the better. Then, you must think it through carefully, plan meticulously, work longer and harder to get it done, and never give up.  

Charlotte said her father had been sick for many years and last year realised his time was up. He was unafraid, seeing death as simply a new frontier.

“He confronted death as he handled life; wide-eyed and unblinking – with strength, courage and unbelievable determination.” 

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