It was supposed to be the overseas trip of a lifetime. Instead, a boating holiday ended in tragedy for a well-known former Te Puke kiwifruit orchardist. Sandra Conchie speaks to his shocked family in Tauranga as they share their memories of a loving father and grandfather and the impact he has had on their lives.
”It’s been a big shock. I still can’t believe it.”
Those are the words Brett Muir uses to describe the death of his father who drowned in the United Kingdom while on the trip of a lifetime.
John Thomas Woodrow Muir, 84, had planned his last major trip and the keen fisherman and pioneering kiwifruit orchardist told his family he was excited about the adventure.
But on September 14, he fell from a 45-foot long canal boat in the Midlands and died, despite efforts from bystanders to save him.
Muir was at the tiller of the boat waiting for his travelling companion to open a canal dock about 100 metres away when the tragedy happened.
Brett Muir, who lives in Pāpāmoa, said within two hours of the tragedy, Tauranga police were knocking on his twin brother Shane’s door in Maungatapu to inform the family.
“I got the news soon after that, and I still can’t believe it,” he said.
Brett Muir said his father’s body was not returned to the family until last Thursday, as an autopsy was required. The coroner ruled the death was an accident.
“The autopsy report confirmed there were no physical injuries but dad drowned despite efforts by three cyclists who saw him in the water and tried to revive him.
“I understand they worked on Dad for some time before the air ambulance got there but the water was very cold and quite murky,” he said.
Brett said no one saw his father fall from the boat but he could swim.
“It’s been a huge shock to all of us, but we take solace in the fact that Dad’s death was very quick and painless. But it is going to take some time to accept Dad has gone.
”This was supposed to be our father’s last major trip, which he was really excited about, before he moved back to the Bay to be closer to us.”
He was due to move from Geraldine into a villa at the Bayswater retirement village this month.
John Muir was ” famous for his DIY skills” and he was “quite entrepreneurial and smart” and “always backed himself”, Brett said.
Brett’s children Grace Muir, 18, and Callum Muir, 21, said their “Poppa John” was a “loving, kind and generous person”, who had backed them 100 per cent.
“He was a really great grandfather, who was always there to support us no matter what, and we adored him and will miss him so much,” Grace said.
Born in Cromwell, Central Otago on August 10, 1935, John was the oldest of seven children.
His sisters Marion Foreman and Pat Mear live in Rotorua, and June Beaumont lives in Kaikoura. Brothers Brian and Raymond reside in Australia.
Another sister Coralie died.
After leaving school, John worked as a farmhand and then as a sheep rouseabout.
In the late 1950s, he moved to the North Island and got a job with Caltex, working as a manager at various petrol stations in Rotorua, Whakatane and the Auckland area.
It was while living in Auckland that he met his wife Patricia (nee Blomfield) who was a secretary for Pan American Airlines at the time.
Pat’s uncle was Lofty Blomfield, a world champion wrestler, and she was also related to famous NZ artist Charles Blomfield, best known for his paintings of the pink and white terraces.
“Artistic expression flows through our family’s veins,” Brett said.
Pat and John were married for almost 58 years at the time of her death on April 9, 2015 at age 78, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.
John is also survived by his son Craig who lives in Australia and daughter Jacqui who lives in Geraldine and his four grandchildren.
Brett said his father was a “self-made man” who was one of the pioneering kiwifruit orchardists in Te Puke in the early 1970s.
He bought 8ha in No 1 Rd in Te Puke and was heavily involved in the kiwifruit industry for about 15 years.
This included working closely with the then-Department of Scientific and Industrial Research at a research orchard in the same road and he was also on the board of directors of the Bay of Plenty Fruitpackers during that time.
After predicting the kiwifruit “bubble would burst” his father turned to deer farming in Pukehina for 5-6 years, then retired to the South Island in the early 1990s.
At one stage John ran a supermarket and a takeaway store, and he and his wife were also market gardeners for several years, Brett said.
“My parents worked hard all their lives. They were great providers and role models.”
“Dad lived by pretty specific rules, which included always doing the best you can in everything you do, being fair and ethical and not leaving anyone behind.”
”If my father knew someone needed help or was asked for advice, he would do everything in his power to pave the way to assist them. He was a mentor to so many people.’
“He was a very social and gregarious person and within a few minutes of people meeting Dad it was like they had known each other for years, and he had lots of friends,” he said.
A funeral service will be held at Tauranga Park, 383 Pyes Pa Rd from 1.30 pm today.