Drive from London to Kolkata in a Mini, check. Start his own business in his 20s, check. Sail to Australia and back, check. Fly in a helicopter up Mt Cook, drive a McLaren around Cromwell, fly in a tiger mother, become a city councillor, get to the very top of the motorcar and real estate industries. Check, check, check, check, check, check.

But Malcolm Fowler didn't wait until he was terminally ill before he started setting himself the most ambitious of goals - he did so as a teenager before the term "bucket list" even existed.

The 74-year-old died on August 20, about two years after being diagnosed with leukaemia, but not before ticking off the last item on his list: get a bloody nice telly.

The Weekend Herald was intrigued by his quirky and uplifting obituary so contacted his family and heard his extraordinary story from Jill, his wife of over 50 years.

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"To this day I have no regrets, I have no yearning to tick anything more off that bucket list," she said.

Malcolm Fowler managed to tick many of the boxes on his bucket list. Photo / Vicki Fowler
Malcolm Fowler managed to tick many of the boxes on his bucket list. Photo / Vicki Fowler

Fowler was born in England in the midst of world War II to a Kiwi Air Force pilot and a British shopkeeper and, somewhat aptly, spent the first weeks of his life in a bomb shelter.

His mother, Joan, who is still alive today, aged 97, travelled by boat with young Malcolm to live in her husband Duncan's homeland and docked in Wellington Harbour in 1945.

As was common in those days, Fowler left school aged 15 and went to work for a tobacconist before landing a job at Wellington Motors where he was able to indulge his life-long love of cars.

"His philosophy in life was do it once, do it right and don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today. And for goodness' sake don't do all this texting and cellphone stuff - talk to people," Jill said. "As a consequence of that he was a very successful salesperson."

Malcolm Fowler managed to tick many of the boxes on his bucket list including a McLaren. Photo / Vicki Fowler
Malcolm Fowler managed to tick many of the boxes on his bucket list including a McLaren. Photo / Vicki Fowler

Never one for staying still too long, the teenage Fowler and a friend drove their Mini from Wellington to Northland after work one Friday to race in the Gold Star Rally. They competed, won and drove back in time for work on Monday morning.

That was indicative of things to come, but the first real item on Fowler's bucket list was to return to England and meet his mother's family - no easy feat for a 19-year-old before the days of mass air travel.

"To achieve it he had to work as a salesperson during the day and a cleaner in the evenings. His parents didn't help with the fare but he saved enough and went to England by boat."

After the family reunion, the next item on his list was more of a necessity: somehow get back to New Zealand. Fibbing that he was 21 so he could get a job selling cars in England, Fowler saved some money - but when he met a friend with another Mini, Fowler saw an opportunity to get that second tick.

The two young men and two Kiwi girls they knew decided to drive the tiny car from London to Kolkata, a mere 8000km away. "One Mini, two guys, two girls and two pup tents. They lived on spaghetti sticks and Maggi soup the whole way," Jill said.

The trip took its toll on young Fowler and he contracted amoebic dysentery while in Persia - now Iran. He made it to Kolkata in 1963, but was very ill. He sent a cable to his parents in New Zealand telling them of his predicament, asking:

Malcolm Fowler with wife Jill - she says she has no regrets about their action-packed life. Photo / Vicki Fowler
Malcolm Fowler with wife Jill - she says she has no regrets about their action-packed life. Photo / Vicki Fowler

"Please can you pay my fare home. And by the way I have grown a beard, are you quite happy for me to arrive home with a beard?"

The response was unequivocal: "Fare paid. Remove beard. Love Dad."

He was still very sick on his return so the next item was to recover from the potentially fatal infection, which he did after months of gruelling treatment.

Jill and Malcolm had been friends since they were teenagers but it wasn't until his release from hospital they realised how much they had in common, particularly their shared passion for cars. They married within a year.

The couple had three children, Vicki, Karen and Bruce, while Fowler went back to work for Dominion Motors. But the bucket list beckoned and he wanted a business of his own, buying a car dealership in Morrinsville in 1970: Malcolm Fowler Motors.

"Within two and a half years the business was so successful that Malcolm needed another challenge, so the next one was, 'Maybe I'd really like to work in the wholesale motor business'."

Malcolm Fowler the Goldstar Rally winner circa 1961. Photo / Vicki Fowler
Malcolm Fowler the Goldstar Rally winner circa 1961. Photo / Vicki Fowler

He landed a job with Todd Motors in Wellington, responsible for the distribution of imported vehicles. That lasted a year before he applied for and landed a job as general manager of Kirk Motors in Auckland.

"He was 27 and he'd already built a successful business and sold it, gone into wholesale and was now managing a major retail outlet," Jill said.

When he'd had enough of that he bought another dealership in Tauranga. "I was prepared to do these challenges on his bucket list but the deal was if we moved to Tauranga we had to stay put long enough for the kids' education."

With rambling off the cards for a while, Fowler thought he'd dabble in local politics, becoming a Rotarian and a City Councillor and was instrumental in the construction of the Tauranga Harbour Bridge. He also became chairman of the Otumoetai Trust and president of the Motor Vehicle Dealers' Institute.

When the kids were old enough, the couple upped-sticks again, this time to Pauanui where Fowler tried his hand at real estate.

"He was so successful at selling property on Pauanui's waterways that he essentially did himself out of a job because all the sections were sold," Jill said - although he continued selling in other parts of town.

Other items on the list included taking his whole family to Disneyland, and sailing from Tauranga to Brisbane and back.

Malcolm Fowler flew up the Mt Cook slopes by helicopter. Photo / Vicki Fowler
Malcolm Fowler flew up the Mt Cook slopes by helicopter. Photo / Vicki Fowler

"When they arrived back in New Zealand the skipper said to Malcolm, 'I've been through five horrific storms in my 20 years of sailing across the Tasman and back and you've been with me for two of them'," Jill said.

During Fowler's lifetime, the family has lived in more than 30 houses, owned 18 caravans, 13 boats and three motor homes. Don't even try to count the cars - a well-known "Malc Mantra" was: "If a car needs a new set of tyres it's time for a new car".

When he was diagnosed with leukaemia he was characteristically optimistic and hopeful that a cure was just around the corner. But it meant the list increased with vigour.

He travelled the country to see his family, watched his grandson play cricket, went to the Wanaka Air Show, raced a McLaren, flew in a helicopter, up Mt Cook, and also in a Tiger Moth plane.

"He went through a few courses of chemotherapy but at the end he landed up in hospital being very unwell as a result of the side effects. He decided no more chemo, just keep checking those boxes," Jill said.

This continued even when he was too ill to travel.

They had a television in their apartment but it didn't quite meet Fowler's standards.

"So this little item popped up on the bucket list; 'Jilly, we need a new TV'.

"The technician installed it on Wednesday, our son came and set us up with Netflix on Friday and Malcolm passed away at lunchtime on Sunday," Jill said.