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Dawson & Associates Ltd - Dawson & Associates, maritime and fisheries law specialists, Nelson New Zealand

Tribute to marine surveyor, Terry Reynolds


When approached to pen this tribute to Terry Reynolds, my first thoughts were: How do I fit a large life into a short article?  How do I follow in words, the footsteps of a larger than life character in the marine industry?

I knew Terry first as his lawyer and then as his friend.  He was one of the first and most loyal supporters of my then fledgling maritime law practice and we voyaged together through litigation that would have destroyed a lesser man.

Terry was the second child and only son of Gwen and Eric (Capt.) Reynolds.  He was born on 3rd August 1950, and grew up with his sister Philippa on an apple orchard in Mariri, Tasman.  At school he was a member of the shooting team, competed in rowing and successfully managed to avoid playing rugby.  He had a lifelong passion for shooting, gadgets and things that went ‘bang’.

At the age of 15 his parents shifted to Whangarei and Terry started his life-long love affair with the sea.  Knowing his son, his father wisely told him not to train on the deck side but to become an engineer.  He served his apprenticeship at Whangarei Glass as a fitter/turner.  His then boss, Owen Davies, who called him “Terence” when he blew it or played some prank on one of his fellow workmates, was to eventually become his father-in-law when he married Jean in 1984.

Terry was a recidivist traveler.  As a youngster he travelled on horseback to various shows often with his lifelong girlfriend Chrisy.  As a merchant seaman he travelled the world.  As an engineer surveyor he travelled the length and breadth of New Zealand in his Landcruiser (which was extensively modified!), with a few overseas runs to remind him of how much he loved this country.

Terry started his sea-going career with a Swedish merchant shipping company as an oiler, and eventually, through hard work and perseverance with his exams, became one of the youngest chief engineers in the foreign-going merchant marine at the age of 32.  Study for Terry was never easy, and it was only in the past two years that he was finally assessed and declared to be, what he termed ‘special’, with a spelling/reading age of nine, as a result of dyslexia.

His career took him to many countries in the world and he was known to say, “If it has a port I’ve been there”.  Japan was a favorite place, where he was heavily involved early in his career, with overseeing the build of large merchant ships.  He loved the people and especially the food.  On his last Friday he enjoyed a Japanese dinner with Jean.

Motor-sport was another of his many interests.  In 1972 and 1974 he won coveted prizes for off-road racing.  He drove his heavily modified 1952 series 1 Landover, (which was turbo-charged, and methyl-alcohol injected), to victory on many occasions.  His love of motor sport gave rise to a serious accident while motor rallying and damaged his back.  This revealed the arthritis that brought him constant pain and caused his hunched appearance as his spine slowly fused.  However, in all my years of knowing Terry, I never once heard him complain of his disability.

In 1983 he met Jean whilst visiting his former boss Owen Davies.  They were married in 1984 and promptly set off with Jean’s two girls, Leanne and Donnell, to live on board refrigerated cargo ships.  These took them to 22 countries over the next couple of years.

Terry had a passion for motor-bikes and owned and refurbished many during his life.  His favorite was a Triumph Tiger and he had a garage full of bikes in various states of repair.

1986 saw the birth of his son Neil, and Terry decided to come ashore.  In 1987 he began his journey to become an engineer surveyor by joining the Ministry of Transport Marine Division.  Ironically, one of his first tasks in this role was learning all there was about the building, installation and running of lifts, a skill that cost him his life.

His first task in his new role was to clean up a large number of legacy problems with the Marine Division in the top of the South Island.  It was around this time that the then government decided to get out of the vessel inspection business, and Terry and Jean started Survey Nelson Limited, which quickly became one of the largest safe ship management companies in New Zealand.  However, in 2008, the then Director of MNZ commenced a process to remove Survey Nelson’s right to operate as a safe ship management company.  During this period, I had the privilege of walking next to Terry and Jean as they endured three high court actions, one Court of Appeal hearing and resisting an application to the Supreme Court, which is the highest court in our land.  In the end the courts found what Terry and Jean knew all along, that the then Director’s poorly articulated concerns about Survey Nelson and its directors were without foundation.

Terry and Jean were successful in having their right to operate as a safe ship management company restored.  But it is testimony to the man that the very reason that made him vulnerable to the actions of the regulator, was his desire to come alongside struggling fishing and marine businesses and guide and mentor them from noncompliance to compliance, from being indifferent operators to good operators.

During 2012 he underwent major heart surgery (‘replumbing’ was his description) but this failed to slow him down.  After a few weeks rest and he was as busy as ever.  He was a font of knowledge and support to operators across the length and breadth of New Zealand, and the industry felt it very keenly that surveyor of his depth of experience and knowledge and empathy was excluded from the industry.

But lest I give you the skewed impression of the man, Terry was quick to inform those of his clients who let him down in pithy, and succinct terms as to where they had strayed ... and his background as a ship’s engineer allowed him to come up with some very creative and colorful descriptions of people that he had little regard for.  

I cannot repeat his accurate and descriptive characterisations of some Maritime New Zealand staff, and those who crossed him.  On the other hand, one of Terry’s greatest compliments to someone was to refer to a person as “He or she is ‘good people’”.  High praise indeed from a man who left big footprints across the marine industry and who was in his own words ‘good people’.

Ultimately Terry and Jean won the battle to keep Survey Nelson alive, but lost the war as the personal and financial toll on him cost him his safe ship management business and his connection to the people and vessels that he served so well. 

Terry had a strongly developed and stubborn sense of justice and injustice which carried him through the Survey Nelson litigation.  He also had strong opinions on everything (not all of which were correct) and was a natural leader and mentor.  He exhibited a willingness to reach out and help others without counting the personal cost, and an un-swerving loyalty to his friends and colleagues.  

Those very qualities allowed Terry to pick himself up off the floor in his early 60s after the Survey Nelson marine survey business came to an end, and start a very successful hazardous equipment survey business, including boilers, cranes, welding and the like.  In this role, he continued to mentor younger surveyors in their profession and will be sorely missed.

He was taken too soon, and the maritime industry is a less colorful place for his passing.

Peter Dawson, 3 November 2017

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