Nelson Francis Joseph Nunns:
b Wellington, July 13, 1928;
m Veronica Gregan, 4s, 4d;
d Wellington, February 29, 2012, aged 83
Nelson Nunns, the unofficial mayor of Upper Cuba St, was one of those entrepreneurial types who never felt comfortable working for anybody.
During a working life of more than 60 years, he was a wheeler-dealer who ran a series of successful businesses from grocery stores in Wadestown and Constable St, Newtown, to Ellmers Mowers in Upper Cuba St.
He was a man who was always going to die in harness and that is exactly what happened to him. He fell at his Northland home early last month, broke some ribs and never recovered.
He ruled his little empire from the small, tidy front office at 239 Cuba St surrounded by motor mowers, chainsaws and cycles. He learned his "stack them high and watch them fly" retailing skills from his hard-case brother-in-law, Russell Jacobsen, who owned the Jacobsen and Sons grocery shop in Wadestown.
Mr Jacobsen gave Mr Nunns a job in his grocery store after the latter gave up work on the Wellington waterfront after the 1951 waterfront strike. It was, inevitably, a business Mr Nunns would eventually control.
If he had a fault while on the wharf in the late 1940s and early 1950s, in the eyes of workmates and the waterside union's walking delegate, it was he went about his job with a little too much enthusiasm.
Mr Nunns was the youngest of 11 children. Mr Jacobsen married one of Mr Nunns' older sisters. The two men liked a bet and a drink after work in the 1950s while the former was an employee of the Jacobsen and Sons Wadestown grocery concern.
The brothers-in-law knew how to enjoy themselves, some would say perhaps even a little too much with their drinks after work, card evenings and regular weekend trips away to race meetings.
The answer to this early life exuberance, from Nelson Nunns' perspective, came in the form of Veronica Gregan who was a member of the well-known, hard-working, go-getting Gregan family, who were joiners from Miramar.
The couple met at the Realm Dance Hall in Hataitai and were married in the old Holy Cross Church in Miramar, by the Irish character and Eastern Suburbs identity, Fr Mickey Brennan, in 1959.
In 1966, Mr Nunns sold his Wadestown grocery business and purchased a delicatessen in Petone. The "home of champions Petone" was affectionately referred to as "struggle town" by Mr Nunns, who moved back into town from the valley in 1967, when he purchased another grocery shop at 91 Constable St, Newtown.
There were inauspicious beginnings to this business when the April 10, 1968, Wahine storm blew in the shop's front windows.
In the backyard of the store was a strategically placed fireplace which was put to good use by the family's second generation bookmakers, including nephew Budgie Jacobsen, who needed records regularly burned.
Mr Nunns was their man. He was also a stickler for cleanliness and would often sweep his shops out three or four times a day while keeping his shelves meticulously stocked.
He ran the grocery shop, which included the sale of large quantities of taro to the Pacific Island community, until back problems and the gradual evolution of large supermarket chains made it wise to sell.
Mr Nunns then went into semi-retirement while keeping his hand in with an early morning job in the Courtenay Place markets, where he was known as "the white Indian".
At a time when most men his age were going into retirement, Mr Nunns had other ideas. He was just getting started. So when an opportunity to purchase the rock solid Ellmers Mowers in Cuba St came up, he jumped at the chance.
He went into partnership with sons Guy and Greg selling and servicing Lawnmaster and Flymo mowers, Husqvarna chainsaws and motor scooters.
Even though family meant a lot to Mr Nunns, there were regular mulchings when the crew out the back disagreed with the front person. A lot of people in Cuba St knew about it when this happened but the hatchets (which were also sold in the shop) were quickly buried.
Greg and Guy left the family business on amicable terms in 1999, leaving the door open for younger brother Jamie and right-hand man Graeme White to come in. They both worked alongside Mr Nunns for 13 years. Mr Nunns Sr was the front person till last month. When dealing with his customers, he told it like it was. He was, indeed, born before the adage of the customer always being right came in to fashion.
Then, too, because he knew Ellmers sold just top quality products, the word "warranty" was not in his dictionary. "Tyre kickers" were shown the door and all his accounts were meticulously handwritten.
The business did not have an office computer.
All the necessary information was after all stored in Mr Nunns' brain. When business was slow he would sit outside on his seat where the spirit of generosity shone through and customers were lured in the door of the tidy shop via the sheer force of his personality.
Diligence, generosity and discipline were lifelong characteristics exhibited by Mr Nunns, who was educated at St Patrick's College, Town, in Cambridge Tce from 1942-46.
He knew how to make money and once his family had been taken care of, anything left over went to charities such as the nuns at the Home of Compassion and donations to the Marist Fathers, the priests who educated him.
For 40 years he was also heavily involved as a member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, which looked after Wellingtonians down on their luck.
There was always a fist full of lollies for the kids who accompanied their parents on visits to the shop.
His popularity was such that 700 people attended his funeral service at St Mary of the Angel's Church on Monday, with mourners bursting into spontaneous applause at the conclusion of son Guy's entertaining, humorous and off-the-cuff 20-minute tribute.
As Guy Nunns noted, Nelson Nunns was indeed a beloved son of Wellington in whom the people of the city and Cuba St in particular were all very well pleased.
Sources: Nunns family, Budgie Jacobsen, Graeme White and Peter Bush.
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