Tributes to Wakatipu character

The late Willie Grey at Queenstown’s Botswana Butchery restaurant, which honoured his memory  by...
The late Willie Grey at Queenstown’s Botswana Butchery restaurant, which honoured his memory by lowering its flag to half-mast this week. Photo: Guy Williams
One of Queenstown’s true characters, well known for his past involvement in ski racing, died in his sleep last Sunday.

A former Mossburn deer farmer, Willie Grey (69), started the NZ Skiing Masters at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak as a way for former ski racers to get together again.

"I would say Willie was the founder of Masters ski racing in New Zealand,"  Masters racer Mike Unger said.

"It was immensely popular in the early days, raising considerable funds for junior ski racing in the Wakatipu Basin.".

Queenstown friend and fellow aviator Louisa "Choppy" Patterson said Mr Grey’s after-match ceremonies were famous.

She described him as a great raconteur.

"He was almost the town crier — he had so many connections with everybody, so he knew what was going on," she said.

Ms Patterson said he was a very good aviator in the mountains, often ferrying friends to Fiordland and the West Coast in his Cessna 180. A keen party-goer, he was the first landlord for popular Queenstown nightspot The Bunker when he owned a building in The Mall. Former German ski racer Guenther Raedler said he inspired Grey to start the NZ Skiing Masters after winning the World Masters in Europe in the mid-80s.

"When we were bachelors in our 30s, Willie showed me the fun world of Queenstown’s apres-ski — with his boyish good looks and searing blue eyes, he was very popular with girls.

"To me, he epitomised the charm of Queenstown and its people."

Local friend Roger Tompkins commented: "Whether carving gracious turns in fresh powder or at the wheel of a yacht, launch or jet-boat, behind the controls of his plane, shouldering a shotgun in the field or gliding into a room in tails and black tie, you had to tug your forelock and give a nod to Mr W. Grey."

Mr Tompkins added that Mr Grey’s late father was a very successful farmer and decorated World War 2 pilot, while his mother, who died only a few years ago, was also quite a character.

Mr Grey is survived by his former wife, Canadian Dianne Culver-Grey, and their children Sophie, David and Cece, and his partner, Belinda Guthrie. and her boys Henry, Tom and Michael.

A celebration of his life will take place at Lake Hayes’ Amisfield Winery & Bistro on  Tuesday.  

- Philip Chandler

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