Tributes flow for trailblazer

Carrying the coffin to the waiting hearse
Carrying the coffin to the waiting hearse

Marlborough businessman John Marris was remembered at his funeral as a man who made sure a Blenheim firm built his new winery, even after it had been sold to multinational Lion Nathan, and who hired young men straight from school to work on his farms and gave them direction in their lives.

He was also a grandfather who could successfully teach his grandsons to behave well when rewarded with Minties.

About 300 people attended his funeral, held at the Church of the Nativity in Blenheim, on Saturday afternoon.

Mr Marris, 73, died at his home on January 26 after a long struggle with cancer.

Oldest son Brent Marris said it was the fourth time he had prepared a funeral speech, his father had declined and rallied in health so often.

"That's the man he was - going on his own terms with all the boxes ticked."

One of the last boxes to be ticked was to go to Leefield, and see the new vineyard planted by Brent Marris for his Marisco winery. Mr Marris said his father wanted to see the newly planted vines two weekends ago, and he was determined.

After debate, they drove him to the site, and the family sat together under a tree, drinking wine, and toasted the young vines. He died 24 hours later.

John Marris had put New Zealand on the world map for wine, he said, being the agent who had bought all the farmland that Montana planted the first commercial grapes on in 1973.

"He went the extra mile . . . At Pyne Gould Guinness, they called him ‘Rust', because rust never sleeps."

But it was for his commitment to family and friends that he was most remembered on Saturday afternoon.

Steve Wilkes talked about family holidays the Marris and Wilkes families took together, both families with six children.

"His ideas were always big and grand. Even on holiday, he dug the biggest holes in the sand to bury us or for us to bury him. He was just the most fun to be with."

His grandchildren spoke of a man who would search all night with a torch to find a lost boomerang because it was important to the child, a grandfather who taught them to shoot and drive tractors, but most of all, who enjoyed spending time with them.

He knew how to make sure they learnt the manners grandmother Alison Marris wanted them to show while on holiday in Fiji - rewarding them with Minties when they were good.

Granddaughter Emma Marris, who is following in her father and grandfather's viticultural footsteps, said the April holidays were spent in Marlborough for the vintage: "Marlborough, wine, Nan, and Granddad are inseparable in our minds."

Business partner Phil Robinson said Mr Marris made sure Lion Nathan continued to use Robinson Construction to build the Wither Hills winery complex despite having sold the property before it was built.

Mr Robinson said Mr Marris took personal responsibility for the landscaping at the Westwood development, and he'd be there, jumping in and out of holes in his customary blue overalls, with his old white Nissan Bluebird parked nearby.

Marlborough Research Centre chief executive Gerald Hope said Mr Marris, the centre's chairman for 30 years, was a modest man who achieved great things for the district.

The Marlborough Express