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Dry sense of humour was legendary



Family, friends and colleagues recently joined together to celebrate the life of Mangawhai resident, Colin Bennett, who passed away on July 23, aged 77.

Colin had a remarkable life and contributed much, not least to our own community.

His early life was in Christchurch. In 1957, aged 19, he began his life-long passion for architecture and completed his tertiary study in 1965 at the University of Auckland School of Architecture. He moved to Fiji to gain overseas experience and formed his own practice there, Architects Pacific Design Partnership, which is still continuing.

Living and working overseas
While Colin was based in Fiji he worked extensively in Hawaii, Western Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga. His work involved design, planning and economic research for hotels, resort complexes, marinas, catering facilities and related visitor-oriented and recreational infrastructure. He was also very interested in developing low-cost construction in under-developed locations and the application of non-skilled labour to complex construction situations.

In 1975 Colin and his three children moved to the UK where he was engaged as a tropical architecture consultant to two London-based companies specialising in hotel development in Nigeria, Ghana and Sierra Leone.

In 1977, shortly after his return to New Zealand, he joined JASMaD Group, now known as JASMAX, as the founding manager of its Wellington office.

Colin married Julia Sutherland in late 1979 and they remained in Wellington until 1985 when they moved to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia for two years. Colin was the Project Manager for the New Zealand/French/Malaysian consortium responsible for the planning and design of the huge Shah Alam Sports Complex.

Active retirement in Mangawhai
Coming back to New Zealand in 1986 Colin returned to work in JASMaD’s Auckland office. With an eye on eventual retirement Colin and Julia bought their property in Mangawhai in 1992 and commuted at weekends. Establishing an olive grove on the property, Colin imported a traditional style olive mill, and a press house was built where the first olives were turned into extra virgin olive oil. Colin and Julia were founding members of Oliveti, the Northland Olive Growers’ Association, and Colin edited the newsletter for several years.

Following Colin’s retirement in July 1997, he and Julia moved permanently to Mangawhai. The olive grove is well known as the venue for the annual Walking Weekend Food and Wine Festival which he and Julia have hosted for many years, and on three occasions outdoor performances of Shakespearean plays.

Colin was involved in many local and community activities. He provided design expertise to groups keen to establish a community swimming pool. He mentored the school problem-solving group which was successful in an international competition. About 11 years ago he designed the refurbishment of the Mangawhai Domain Hall. After the 2004 tsunami Colin travelled to Sri Lanka and, offering his vast knowledge on tropical building construction and conditions, joined volunteers working on rebuild projects.

MHRS life membership
For 20 years Colin undertook key roles on the executive of Mangawhai Harbour Restoration Society (MHRS). This year he was awarded Life Membership of the Society – a tribute accepted on his behalf by Julia and his daughter and two sons at this year’s AGM.

Colin’s ambition was to see Mangawhai Harbour returned to its original state and many of the works undertaken and achieved are a testament to his dedication and professionalism. Colin had the ability to deal with the minutiae of project evaluation and planning – a role at which he excelled, working quietly behind the scenes. Tempered with a good dose of down-to-earth commonsense, his no-nonsense approach and dry sense of humour was legendary amongst his colleagues.

In the mid-1990’s Colin became Chairman of the MHRS Planning Committee, charged with assessing Mangawhai’s future growth and how the MHRS would contribute to managing the needs of an increased population. The committee produced the Mangawhai Harbour Sustainable Management Plan, a blueprint for much of the work the society has undertaken in the last few years.

Later, as Convenor, Special Projects, Colin contributed his engineering and design skills to, amongst many other projects, Alamar Crescent boat ramp planning.

Quiet determination
He was then elected Convenor, Mangrove Management, a position he undertook with equanimity, despite the huge hurdles ahead. In an effort to change the removal of mangroves from a prohibited activity within the Regional Plan he assisted with submissions to Northland Regional Council. He was involved in the preparation of the resource consent application to the Regional Council to remove mangroves from Mangawhai Harbour and he was in the Environment Court when the Society finally won approval to remove just 18 out of the 87 hectares of mangroves within the harbour. Undaunted, had he been given the opportunity, he would have continued the process for change.

Colin will be remembered for his enormous knowledge and experience which was equalled by his modesty, his willingness as a mentor, and an ability to put everything into perspective. His was a life well lived.

COLIN BENNETT: Just as busy in retirement, Colin was involved heavily in community projects.

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