skip to main content

The man behind the badge - Chris Garrett - 21 March 2023


Chris Garrett was 'The Person Behind the Badge' tonight and he told us some anecdotes about his childhood based on the background set out here.

'I was born in England in Derby which is an industrialised town approximately 120 miles North of London and at least 100 miles from  the nearest stretch of coastline. Rolls Royce aeroplane engines were made there.

I was brought up in the Anglican faith and, as a boy, I went to Sunday school, cubs, scouts, and I sang in the church choir. Yes, hard to believe it but I was a church choir boy.

I had an elder sister Cheryl, three years older, and a younger sister, Carol, seven years younger.

I played outside a lot with the other kids in our neighbourhood, playing games that stretched our imagination like Cowboys & Indians, using pegs as guns. We made soapbox trollies; we dammed up streams then blew up the dams with fireworks, we went fishing in the local canal, we laid coins on the railway line to squash halfpennies into pennies, shot plastic soldiers with our spud guns and went on long bike rides. All typical of kids of our time era.

I grew up in a terraced house like those you see on Coronation Street and money was always tight but we did always manage an annual excursion to the seaside. I got a new bucket and spade and a new pair of sandals nearly every year.

My Dad joined the Territorial Army when he was 18 to beat conscription but the plan back-fired on him as war broke out shortly after and he was first on the list to be called up. He was a soldier for the whole seven year duration of World War 2 and drove a tank through Italy, France and North Africa.  His lack of qualifications limited his post war job prospects although he enjoyed his chosen Career as a Sales Rep selling Carpets and Paper products.

I was determined to succeed in life so at the age of thirteen,  I got a morning paper round, a night paper round, a Sunday paper round and a Saturday job working for Burtons the Tailors, writing up the orders in the made-to-measure suits department.
During school holidays I worked as a farm labourer, spud picking and hay baling, and in the evenings I went out laying carpets with my Dad.

My family couldn't really afford to send me to university and in those days there were no Student Loans available so I left school at the age of 16 to start work with a Construction Company where I had managed to get a Cadetship as Trainee Quantity Surveyor doing day release and night tech for 5 years to get some Tertiary qualifications to follow the 7 'O' levels I achieved at school.

As a trainee I got a thorough grounding in the building industry and I was based on many building sites. Building sites in England are very bleak in winter with hard men working outside in the freezing cold amongst the ice and snow.  I thought the foreman's ploy to leave men outside for two hours in the ice and snow waiting for a job interview was cruel until he explained to me that if they get the job they will be out in the cold  ALL DAY and anyway he wanted to see how keen they were to get a job in the first place!!

It was on one of these sites I met a kerb-layer who had just returned from Australia. He told me that over there you could make good money and enjoy glorious sunshine.

My goal at this stage of my life was to find blue sky and sunshine, see some of the world and make enough money to buy a house on the good side of town when I got home. Australia fitted well into this game plan so, at the age of twenty-one, I left with a mate for Australia deciding to go to Perth. Perth was a beautiful place with white sandy beaches and when I arrived in December 1974 it was 40 degrees centigrade, so we lay on the beach all day and I got terribly sun burnt.

Perth was very isolated, thousands of kilometres from anywhere.  There were no jobs in the building industry so it was a matter of applying ourselves to jobs that were going.  We became car salesmen but also got a little side line going making name plaques for houses and selling them door to door.  I got the sack from car sales for not selling any cars so I then got a job as a sales rep, selling concrete additives.  After a few months we realised that Perth was not the place to be so we got on a bus to Sydney - three days and three nights on a bus across the Nullabor Plain.

Sydney was good to me.  I walked straight into a job as Senior Quantity Surveyor on a $multi-million construction site with good money and a 3.3 Litre Holden Torana as company car.  I could go out every night of the week and still save half of my wages.

I also met my wife Trish at this time.  The last thing I wanted at this stage of my life was a wife but we felt very right together. Our eyes met across a crowded room and pretty soon we became inseparable. It was obviously meant to be as we were together for 40 years.

After working hard and saving hard for two years Trish and I left Australia and went to England via a three-month trip around Europe.  We married in Derby in 1977 and bought a house on the good side of town which you will remember was my original goal.  We lived there for about a year.

Trish, being a Kiwi, got a little homesick and wanted a visit home to NZ. Since I had succeeded in my initial goal I was receptive to this idea as a new challenge. Our plan was to have a holiday in NZ, check out work prospects there and then return to Australia. So yes, I came here for a holiday in 1978 and I am still here!

We started off in Auckland where I got a job with Fletchers. We then transferred to Cromwell in the wake of the Clyde Dam construction work.  When the Dam job hit bad ground Fletchers work dried up so I got transferred to Dunedin as Chief Quantity Surveyor for the Otago Southland Region.  We lived happily in Dunedin for ten years and both of our children were born there.

Both children were born by Caesarean section, Amie in March 1981 and Adam in June 1984. Trish was given an epidural so not only was I present but I was able to hold her hand and talk to her through both deliveries. These were two of the most precious moments of my life. We really enjoyed our family life in Dunedin full of kiddie picnics and parties when the children were little.

I joined Bayfield Jaycees and held many offices including President & Deputy Regional Governor. I Convened a major project called "Lime Drive" which made $12,000 profit (a year's salary in those days).  I Convened Public Speaking courses and was involved in Regional Debating including adjudication of High School Debates.  I was also a Trustee of the Fletcher Challenge Employee's Credit Union.

After the share market crash in the late 80's the workload dried up and my team of Quantity Surveyors diminished from thirteen down to two and I was struggling to keep them going.  At this time there was a building boom in the UK so I took a six month leave of absence from Fletchers and we sold up in NZ to return to England via LA.  The kids were aged eight and five years old and loved Disneyland and Knott's-Berry Farm.  We also enjoyed Universal Studios.

We had gone back to England with a taste and see attitude as to how long we would stay.  I got a job as Senior Quantity Surveyor / Project Manager to construct a Tesco Supermarket complete with Petrol Station and we lived in a rented house in Ilkeston near Nottingham.

We enjoyed our stay there.  We went on long walks in the Peak District, we loved the old English country pubs, little villages and Stately Homes.  We saw Dick Turpin's grave in York in the grounds of a church built in AD 1147 and we visited several castles. Yes we enjoyed our stay, but at that time it was not financially viable for us to live there on a permanent basis.  During our ten years in Dunedin, house prices had gone up threefold in NZ but gone up sevenfold in the UK.  We had owned our house outright in Dunedin but the proceeds didn't even constitute a decent deposit on a comparable house in England. In addition, the activities for the children were more easily accessible and affordable in NZ but extremely expensive and more "elitist" in England, so after the six months leave of absence I contacted Fletchers to return to NZ.

Work was still scarce in South Island but Wellington was booming so I came here as Commercial Manager for the General Works Division handling all works with a value up to $5million. On arrival in Wellington in 1989 I counted twenty-eight tower cranes around Wellington Harbour  but approximately three years later there were none. There was a huge downturn in the industry. Unfortunately my Division became a casualty of that downturn.  My division got axed. I was made redundant after thirteen years with Fletchers. I was gutted.

I then got a job as Regional Manager for a commercial door company.  It paid the bills for a couple of years but I'm afraid I couldn't really get enthusiastic about doors. I then got a job as Chief Quantity Surveyor / Manager for Cemac Commercial Interiors.  Six months later I thought I was looking down the barrel of another redundancy as Carter Holt Harvey, who owned the Cemac Group of Companies, was breaking up the group and selling off the assets.  Luckily a few of us were able to put together a Management buy-out proposal which was acceptable and I became the General Manager and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Cemac Wellington Ltd. That was in 1993 and career wise I never looked back.

One of the most devastating parts of my life was the loss of our dear daughter Amie who died of bowel cancer aged twenty-four on 13th September 2005 after a sixteen-month battle with the illness which included major bowel surgery, major liver surgery, strong Chemo treatment and then Radiation therapy. We went through the painful process with her every step of the way and never gave up hope of a full recovery for her until the day she actually died. Amie was a high achiever and won a scholarship to Chilton St James school. She loved ballet and jazz dance and performed in many stage productions put on by her school of dance.  The dancing led Amie to competitive Aerobics where she competed at National Level after being coached by Kylie Carter (the then world No2).  Amie also achieved a Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award. Academically she achieved an 'A' Bursary and went on to Victoria University where she achieved Bachelor of Arts majoring in Criminology and a Law degree back to back whilst working at National Bank call centre.

Our son Adam has been a soccer player from the age of five and still plays now. We spent many happy hour on the sideline cheering him on and I even did a year as Chairman of the Western Suburbs soccer club. He went to HIBS and achieved a Bachelor of Commerce degree with a Triple Major in HR, Marketing and Management. He is currently living in Wellington working as a Facilities Manager for Weta Industries and was recently tasked with opening up new facilities in Vancouver and Melbourne. He is married to Erin and has an 19-month old daughter, Amelia, my first grand child.

I took early retirement at the age of fifty-nine and Trish and I did several wonderful overseas trips together around Europe with France & Italy as our favourites. Trish was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer late 2013 and died in May 2015.

I have since married Anne-Marie, a retired school teacher, who has three sons and four grandchildren.

One son, Rowan, is in Christchurch and has two children, a daughter named Mila aged three and a son named Hugo who is 20 months old. We love our visits to see them in Christchurch.

The eldest son, Kieran, lives in Dublin. His wife just had a second daughter, Violet, to make their first 20 month old daughter, Eve, a big sister, so we are busy planning another trip to Ireland to meet Violet. We really love our blended family grand-children in whom we are very blessed.

I enjoy golf and Rotary.  I was President of Plimmerton Rotary in 2014-15 and was Assistant District Governor 2016-2018. I am currently District Chair for Rotary Friendship Exchanges and have been on three Exchanges, to India,  the state of New York and New Orleans.

The man behind the badge - Chris Garrett - 21 March 2023

+ Text Size -

Skip to TOP

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the server!