A major figure in the growth and development of Tauranga for more than 40 years died yesterday aged 91.

Joy Owens, former wife of New Zealand's most famous businessman, the late Sir Bob Owens, succumbed to a massive stroke, leaving behind a lifetime of public service and achievement.

When her grandson Mahe Drysdale secured his first Olympic gold for single sculls in 2012, he dedicated his medal to Mrs Owens.

"She was the first one to believe in me and support me. Part of it is definitely yours," he said after his victory at the London Olympics.


Mrs Owens had been a staunch supporter of Rowing New Zealand's development programme and was a former sponsor of the New Zealand under-23 rowing crew.

She also supported the sporting career of another grandchild, Rose Keddell, who is now a member of the national women's hockey squad.

Mrs Owens was described by Tauranga mayor Stuart Crosby as being incredibly supportive of the efforts of Sir Bob in the early days when the growth of his business paralleled Tauranga's growth to a city.

"Joy was a major contributor to the growth and development of Tauranga across all sectors; supporting Sir Bob, culture and the arts and the social sector. She was a very generous supporter of those who were not so well off."

Mr Crosby said Mrs Owens had a lot to do with getting the Merivale Action Centre over the line so that construction could begin.

The last time he was in her company was at the opening of the Bob Owens Retirement Village where Mrs Owens and opera singer Dame Malvina Major were guests of honour. She lived her final years at the village.

Mrs Owens' desire to give something back to the community saw her honoured with the Queen's Service Order in 2006, nine years after Sir Bob was knighted for services that included being the dual mayor of Mount Maunganui and Tauranga. She was the Mayoress of Tauranga from 1968 to 1977.

Her major contribution to education was as a trustee of the Owens Charitable Trust for more than 30 years. It provided educational scholarships to every college in Tauranga.

She had a hands-on role in the business started by Sir Bob and was a director of the Owens Group for 16 years.

However it was her community work for which she was most widely known. This included Plunket, the Mount Maunganui and Omanu surf clubs, setting up Care and Craft to support senior citizens and the disabled, and helping to establish Baycourt Theatre and the Tauranga Art Gallery. She was a former patron of the Tauranga Arts Festival.

Mrs Owens said in 2006 that her most satisfying work had been to help establish the Merivale Action Centre.

"This project was dear to my heart. When Bob and I first came to Tauranga in 1952, we set up our home there and moved into a state house in the area."

Although they went on to bigger and grander homes, the family's modest original house at 286 Fraser St was still there today.

She is survived by her four children Robin, Denise, Douglas and Wendy, 20 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

Joy Owens 1925-2016:

* Born in Hastings

* Married Bob Owens in Auckland 1950

* Shifted to Merivale 1952

* Honoured with QSO in 2006