Friday, 16 August 2019

Robert (Bob) Arthur Owens

R.A. (Bob) Owens, Mayor of Tauranga 1968-71 and Mayor of both Tauranga and Mount Maunganui 1971-77
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library, Ref. 99-710
For those who have resided in Tauranga over the past 50 years or so, the name of this man is synonymous with business success, public service and the phenomenal development of this city in these past few decades. Robert Arthur Owens (1921-1999) was born and educated in Manchester, United Kingdom, served in the Merchant Navy from 1937-1946, and in the Royal Navy from 1942-1944.

Historic Village locomotive on Owens Transport vehicle c late-1990s
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library, Ref. 14-0118

He emigrated to New Zealand and in 1953 came to Tauranga with his wife and young family. They lived in Parkvale (Merivale, to the locals) and had the “flashest car in the area. In '58 or '59 they moved closer to town.”* He began a shipping and stevedoring business which eventually grew to become the Owens Group involving over 30 companies. These included not only shipping and stevedoring but also road transport, travel and insurance. Late in the 1990s this was taken over by Mainfreight.

Tauranga mayor Bob Owens and Auckland mayor "Robbie" (Dove-Myer Robinson) racing tricycles at the Tauranga Orange Festival, 27 August 1977
Image courtesy of Tauranga City Library, Ref. 03-061
In 1962 he was elected to the BOP Harbour Board, and was still Chairman in the 1980s. Elected as Mayor of Tauranga in 1968 he served 3 terms, and from 1971-1974 was also Mayor of Mount Maunganui, the first dual mayor in New Zealand. For 20 years he dreamed of, and campaigned for, our harbour bridge to connect those two communities. In 1981 he was chairman of Air New Zealand, helping to pull it out of financial difficulty, and he was knighted in 1997, two years prior to his death.  The large Ryman Healthcare Facility in Bethlehem has been named in his memory.


Biographical Sketches of The Centennial Mural, editor Ernest E. Bush
* Personal account by writer’s husband John Green

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