Obituary: Harry Westbury

21:39, Dec 10 2012
Harry Westbury: A successful businessman who also devoted his energy to Hutt community groups.


Harry Westbury was not only a highly-successful cycle retailer and repairer but a person who gave huge amounts of time to help keep community causes rolling along.

It took a stroke six years ago to finally slow him down a little and he died in the Shona McFarlane hospital on November 21, aged 89.

Back in the day: Harry Westbury, second from left, with other workers at the Westbury Cycles shop in High St

It was his father, also Harry, who set him on the cycling path.  Harry Snr, who came to New Zealand from Newcastle with £5 in his pocket, first worked as a conductor on Wellington's horse-drawn trams but it wasn't long before his abiding interest in cycling also became his career.

Known as ''The Byko'', he raced cycles and could perform all sorts of tricks on two wheels.

He opened his first bike shop in Wellington in 1897.  At least as far back as 1908 Harry Snr was in business in Lower Hutt but it wasn't until 1927 that he opened the Westbury Cycles building in High St, right next to the Queens Arcade, that still bears his initials, HVW, and 1897.


With manpower shortages during and after World War Two , Harry Jnr and his brother Vin were needed in the business.

His son Paul recalled at his service that Harry had wanted to do engineering and had started study at Victoria University but had to abandon that to help out in the cycle shop when Vin joined the air force. 

Harry also saw service in the latter part of the war in a transport unit, but never left New Zealand.

Harry sold bikes to thousands of Hutt families until his retirement in the mid-1970s, not to mention toys, prams and other baby gear.  Paul said that in the Christmas rush Harry would often start at 5am and finish around midnight. There were also Westbury shops in Petone and Upper Hutt.

Harry had a great capacity for hard work, as Paul discovered when he was hauled in to help when he was old enough.

 ''I can remember once doing deliveries in Wainuiomata at 2am on a Christmas Eve,'' Paul said.

''The shop was for all Dad's working life the major focus for our family.  We [four children] all worked there on late nights and at Christmas our friends got holiday jobs there and we regularly came across people who worked for Dad at some time.

''It is a tribute to Dad that so many of those people seemed to hold him in high regard.''

His daughter Jan said for many years afterwards she would meet people who would say things like, ''I bought my first banana seat and ape-hanger [handle-bars] from your father's shop''. 

For a child growing up, ''it was quite cool to be known as Harry Westbury's daughter''.

Harry would fix up three-wheeler bikes for special needs children and was known for helping people who didn't have much money.

The light of his life was his wife of 64 years, Lois.  She was visiting south from Auckland and the pair met through the efforts of her relative, unofficial matchmaker Auntie Zetland, a mother figure for many of the young Scouts from Harry's Richmond 1st Lower Hutt troop.

They were married on Harry's 25th birthday in 1948 and his refrain for the rest of his life was that she was the most expensive birthday present he ever received.  Jan said from his hospital bed in his final months, when sometimes he would forget everyone else's name, if Lois came in the room his eyes would light up and follow her every movement.

He was an enthusiastic participant in clubs and societies - being a member of Jaycees, Senators, Rotary and Probus - not to mention the Shakespeare Society, which Paul said ''was actually a gathering of mates over a flagon of beer, saveloys and pig trotters in the Westbury Cycles workshop.  It was apparently called the Shakespeare Society to make it a little easier to explain to the spouses.''

Harry was involved with Birthright and Citizens Advice.  Harry and Lois spent a year looking after under-privileged children at a home in a Chinese fishing village after Harry's retirement and on their return home got involved in helping refugee families settle in New Zealand.

Jan said her father would ''adopt'' families who moved to the Hutt from other parts of New Zealand.

 ''He might meet them through church or the shop, or whatever.  Next minute they would be invited around for dinner, or he was trying to involve them in local things.''

Knox Church was hugely important to Harry and Lois.  They had transferred to it from the Anglican Church in 1961 and made it a big part of their lives.  Harry was an elder there.

Helped by the fact he lived all his life in the Hutt,  Jan said her father had many, many friends, ''some of them bosom pals from birth until death''.

Les Winslade, now in his 90s, caught a bus down from up north to be at his funeral and another lady, of similar vintage, drove herself all the way from Rotorua.

One event that had a major impact on Harry's life was being one of the leaders, at just 24 years of age, of a contingent of 230 New Zealand Scouts (73 from the Hutt Valley) who travelled to Paris for a jamboree in 1947. 

The trip there and back by boat, and the time spent looking over places that were torn apart by the war, meant they were away for more than five months. For years afterwards, some of those Scouts would meet up to reminisce. 

A few years back Harry was interviewed for a television at one of the reunions.  He could still fit into the same Scout uniform he had worn to Paris in 1947 and joked with the reporter ''you can't fatten a thoroughbred!''.

By Simon Edwards.  Sources: Paul Westbury, Jan Tait, Hutt News files, and  Pages from our Past, by George Kaye

Hutt News