Lofty vision forged by mountain and valley

04:34, Jun 19 2014
Tommy Thomson
Tommy Thomson served on the Lakes County Council for 33 years.

As Tommy Thomson would see it and say, he was a Glenorchy man.

A graduate of the Otago School of Mines, he saw service overseas before being seconded to Glenorchy to survey areas for mining the scheelite sought for munitions manufacture during the war years.

Close on 70 years ago, Tommy Thomson married Reta Groves of Routeburn Station, over the lake.

She was to become his lifelong sweetheart.

They settled at Mt Earnslaw.

He rid it of rabbits, envisaged a great future for the whole valley and set about making this happen with a road through to Queenstown a priority.


With a certain entrepreneurial spirit, Tommy backed Tim Wallis, a man 20 years his junior, in the helicopter-led uplift of deer from Mt Earnslaw, first steps in the venison-recovery industry of which Sir Tim is a noted pioneer.

Tommy represented the Greenstone Riding on the Lakes County Council for 33 years, chairing the council for more than half of that time.

As chairman he exercised great moderating skills through debate, gaining consensus on ideas as he went.

At home, he and Reta entertained overnight British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her husband Denis and their entourage; unassuming, friendly Reta peeling the potatoes while the party toured the station with Tommy, up early in the morning making toast.

The Thatchers were among a host of notables who stayed at Mt Earnslaw over the years as the station became a show place with hospitality unrivalled.

Then, just last week, having died in his 97th year, Tommy Thomson, the man from Glenorchy, was laid to rest there in the quiet earth he loved.

For many it seemed the end of an era, the going of a good man loved as much for his genial smile as for his vision, his family, treasures in a rural environment - son Geoffrey and his wife Diana at Mt Earnslaw; daughter Jill, her late husband Crew Neame and their family in Christchurch; younger daughter Annette, an artist whose depictions of Glenorchy at the Head of the Lake are currently curated in the United Kingdom for a Chelsea art exhibition.

Queenstown author Irene Adamson has written the history of the Queenstown borough, the Lakes County Council and those who manned it, the story of Mt Earnslaw and the family who made it home.

Tommy stars in the text and his smile and amiable ways are, like the Remarkables mountain range, an integral part of every picture.

And so often, there beside him "my dear little Reta" - beautiful bride, young mother, cook for shearers, musterers, family, friends; right hand on the farm on motorbike or horse, tireless gentle carer in later times.

The closeness of Tommy and Reta, the loving strength of their bond was legendary, as was their ability to encompass others in their friendship and care.

The batteries that once crushed the hard-won scheelite ore are silent now, Glenorchy's future more allied to that of Queenstown with adventure pursuits, whitewater rafting and horse treks. But the beauty of the valley of which Tommy Thomson spoke is still special, attracting Peter Jackson to film Lord of the Rings, home to Jane Campion, whose Top of the Lake was a top UK TV series last year.

They have come in as others have gone on, among them potter Marie Washbourn nee Veint, born at Paradise, a true daughter of Arcadia.

Photographers are drawn to the remote beauty of Glenorchy, even the old wharf shed familiar now as the background to the intro of nightly TV One news.

Tommy is survived by his Reta, their children Geoffrey, Jill, and Annette, grandsons James and Thomas (Tommy) Thomson, granddaughters Margo, Lucy and Jessica, and in a timely arrival, Jessica and Stacy Coburn's newborn boy, Tommy's great grandson, baby George Michael Coburn of Queenstown.

The Leith Valley lad who delivered billy milk around the streets of Dunedin's North East Valley in the 1920s died on June 1 in 2014 with a lifetime's work behind him, his vision realised, his dreams achieved, the difference he sought to make, made - his beloved valley ever green.

The Southland Times