Stuart Maclean - Multi-faceted motorsport man
Stuart Maclean was one of Queenstown’s tourism leaders back in the day, having arrived in 1969 at 26, as an NZI insurance salesman from Invercargill.
He’d been vice president of the Invercargill Jaycees at 21, with a ‘dream job’ travelling the South Island insuring pubs before being sent to Queenstown as the town’s first permanent NZI insurance agent.
Business “walked in the door” as the town of just 3500 had only been serviced out of Invercargill until then. It was quite a transition for a city boy, handling everything from high country stations to little old ladies’ cars. “This guy walked into my office and said, ‘Gidday, I’m Mick. Mick Bloody Sarginson (Mount Aurum Station runholder).”
Everybody knew everybody else’s business.
Rejecting a posting to Masterton for NZI, Stuart took over managing Skyline’s travel office in the Mall until 1975.
He joined Queenstown Jaycees and was president for a year. He also founded the Queenstown Car Club with Brian Middlemass, and is still heavily involved 53 years on. Their Coronet Peak Hill Climb attracted top drivers like Inky Tulloch, Trevor Crowe and Reg Cook.
Stuart and wife Pam, married in Invercargill, had three daughters. While they were building their Queenstown home Stuart worked holidays at the TAB for extra cash, helping long-time weather watcher David Crow. He took readings and did radio broadcasts when David was away, a voluntary role he still shares.
Stuart was asked to manage the local operations for Atlantic Pacific Travel – then NZ’s largest inbound tour operator for areas outside Australia, which he did for 12 years.
The US, Japan, Germany and the UK were the leading markets.
A group was once delayed flying into Queenstown due to bad weather. “I met them at the airport explaining the weather had ‘mucked up’ the schedule,” says Stuart. “Mayor Warren Cooper was at the airport and tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Do you realise there are 30 Americans over there wondering what ‘mucked up’ means?’”
On another occasion loadings on a Mount Cook Airlines flight were too high. Manager Frank Ravey told Stuart he had to weigh his female passengers from the US National Retired Teachers Association. Stuart tried diplomatically to explain that these “weren’t slim ladies” to no avail. Frank insisted, loading them eight at a time onto the baggage scales after which he pronounced, ‘We’ll have to take the bags off and send them up by truck’, grins Stuart. “A US-NZ war almost broke out convincing those ladies to be weighed for their own safety.”
In 1984 local businesses decided being dubbed the ‘Queenstown Branch of the National Travel Association’ wasn’t cutting it for a leading NZ tourist destination. The Queenstown Promotion Bureau was formed, with Stuart as president until 1987. “It was a very busy time, and we were all volunteers. People promoting the town now don’t know they’re alive.” One of their greatest achievements was convincing then Mayor John Davies and his council to adopt the current promotional rating system. “Initially reluctant, John could see the benefits. Queenstown now has one of the most efficient promotional bodies in NZ.”
He then served as a district councillor from 1987 until 1993 bringing valuable tourism expertise, serving a further four years as a planning commissioner. “I said once to planning chairman Harry Caldwell, whom I greatly admired, ‘…when we get houses built on the Ladies Mile’. He said, ‘Listen young fella, we will never have houses built on Ladies Mile’,” grins Stuart. “We had lots of arguments with the Wakatipu Environmental Society. They didn’t want Millbrook developed, or vineyards in Gibbston Valley, but we had to work out what was acting in the best interests of the community.”
In the late 80s Stuart also dabbled in menswear retail, first at ‘Mr’ with Rob Boult, then ‘Saxony Downs’ with former colourful restaurateur Ray Drayton.
In 1995 he was invited back into insurance locally as a loss advisor for McLaren’s from Dunedin where he worked for the next 22 years until retiring at 74.
Queenstown’s notorious record 1999 floods were the most catastrophic event he dealt with, with insurance companies paying out up to $100 million. “People underestimate what natural disasters are capable of. It’s essential to be insured.” Serious fires were on his list, and badly flood-damaged holiday homes after owners forgot to turn the water off for winter and pipes collapsed ceilings.
Now 80, Stuart’s served as Queenstown Rotary president and is still an avid motorsport fan and Car Club committee member. He’s Motorsport NZ’s longest serving steward of 56 years and also a licensed Motorsport examiner for drivers seeking competition licences.