Anna Leask

Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

Christchurch earthquake: 'Irrepressible', generous family man farewelled

Pallbearers carry the casket of Owen Wright into his Land Rover after the funeral today. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Pallbearers carry the casket of Owen Wright into his Land Rover after the funeral today. Photo / Sarah Ivey

"Daddy I love you ... I didn't want the earthquake to happen and I didn't want Daddy to die."

These words from a 3-year-old boy dressed in a Batman suit brought tears to the eyes of the hundreds who gathered to farewell Owen Wright - the man who helped many over the Port Hills after the Christchurch earthquake and then lost his own life.

Mr Wright's widow, Megan, spoke on behalf of her children Sarah, 6, and Eric, 3, at his funeral yesterday.

The children had planned to say their own words, but were too overwhelmed.

"Eric told me what he wanted to say: '... Daddy I miss you so much'," Mrs Wright said.

"Sarah wanted me to say: 'Daddy, I really wanted you to stay alive. I love you so much.

I loved the way you were and your humour. I will always love you'."

Mrs Wright then battled through her tears to give her own tribute to her husband, whom she first met on a ski trip when they were just 15 and 16.

"You're the love of my life; you're my best friend and the best husband I could ever have dreamed of. You were a loving and wonderful daddy, and don't worry because I'm going to look after the kids, love.

"I miss you and I'm going to love you forever."

The family will keep Mr Wright's memory alive with a special candle, lit for the first time yesterday. It will be lit again amid photographs of Mr Wright, 40, on special family occasions.

On February 22, Mr Wright was at his Woolston joinery factory when the 6.3-magnitude quake hit.

He made sure his family were safe and then spent several hours tidying up the factory before heading home to Lyttelton to see them.

On the way, Mr Wright discovered that the tunnel road was shut and took a detour to the Bridle Path, which goes over the Port Hills.

He passed tired and terrified people trying to get home, so stopped again and again to pick them up and drive them to the top.

After countless trips, Mr Wright parked his much-loved Land Rover at the top of the hill and texted his wife, "Home in 10".

But he never made it. As he walked down the path, an aftershock hit, sending boulders hurtling down the hill. He was crushed beneath them.

Yesterday, hundreds of people attended Mr Wright's funeral in the Aurora Centre for Performing Arts at Burnside High School.

He lay in a coffin fashioned by his mates and colleagues from timber and fittings from family homes and significant places in his life. He was carried from the service in the back of his trusty Land Rover, the vehicle that carried so many others to safety, through a guard of honour.

Mr Wright's parents, Tony and Faith, spoke of his childhood and early years, his love of the outdoors and his beginnings in the joinery industry.

He built his first kitchen in the family garage, on a workbench he made himself.

"He was a family man. Husband, father, cook, baker, fix-it man. He was enthusiastic, confident - a leader, an anchor," Tony Wright said.

"He mimicked, he was funny, a raconteur, and solved problems easily. He called a spade a spade, but the hole left behind is rather too large to fill."

Owen Wright's brothers Tony and Emlyn and sister Helen and their families took turns paying tribute to the man known as "O".

"The building damage in Christchurch is insignificant compared to the loss of my brother," Tony Wright said. "He was the youngest, but he made up for that with sheer force of personality. He was irrepressible."

He spoke of his brother's love of hunting, fishing, skiing and hiking and his generosity and kindness.

"His last act of kindness spoke volumes for the sort of person he was. I am enormously proud to be Owen's brother."

Business partners Evan McLachlan and Dave Phillips vowed to keep Owen Wright Joinery running.

"We'll get there, but I know it's going to be tough," Mr McLachlan said.

Said Mr Phillips: "We've lost our go-to man, but we're all behind the company's future ... It was his dream and we will endeavour to do it."

- NZ Herald

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