Bomber pilot and civil engineer. Died aged 80

Despite a raft of achievements, George Beca, CBE, DFC, D.Eng (Hon), mostly lived his life the same way he flew his bombers - out of the spotlight.

Born in Putaruru in 1921, he seemed destined for a modest life of small business and fly-fishing.


His father was a draper who expanded his business through rural Waikato townships during the 30s, taking Beca along for the ride.

But it was curtains for that career path when the Second World War broke out. Beca was determined to join the Air Force and finally succeeded in being posted to Bomber Command in Britain.

By 1942 he was flying Wellington bombers over Tobruk in North Africa, followed by a posting to India.

There he joined a multinational unit flying difficult, behind-the-lines missions to supply General Slim's "forgotten" 14th Army and General Orde Wingate's Chindit guerrilla fighters in Burma.

Flight Lieutenant Beca proved to be a master navigator, finding his way to remote drop zones through high mountains and thick fog.

For his service and determination to fly in any weather, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

His stint on the subcontinent was cut short by a crash and Beca was returned to England, where he joined an elite pathfinder squadron flying Lancasters.

He was discharged in 1945. In the final entry in his flying log, the squadron's Wing Commander described the 24-year-old's flying qualities as exceptional.

Flying remained his career of choice after the war, and with the possibility of a glamorous future as a test pilot in mind, Beca began studying for an engineering degree at the old Ardmore campus.

It was here that his managerial abilities came to the fore, and his life began to turn from large-scale destruction to large-scale construction.

After a brief stint in Hamilton, Beca moved to Auckland to join the small company of Gray and Watts.

In the early 50s he became a partner in Gray, Watts and Beca and began expanding the company from the workforce of three he found on arrival to its present complement of about 1200, spread through South-east Asia, Australia and New Zealand under the flag of Beca, Carter, Hollings and Ferner.

His reputation for careful, fairminded judgment was recognised in 1979 with his appointment to the commission of inquiry into the Abbotsford landslip disaster, followed by the CBE, the Commemoration Medal in 1990, civil engineering fellowships in New Zealand, Australia and England and an honorary doctorate from the University of Auckland.

Beca was a keen sportsman, with a lifetime enthusiasm for fishing, golf, cricket and rugby.

He was also a tireless worker for his community, something perhaps best reflected in his crusade to complete the renovation of Parnell's Holy Trinity Cathedral.

In all aspects of his life, until heart problems took his life last Friday, Beca was known as a man whose achievements were matched only by his honesty and an unnerving knack for being right.

His life seemed to have turned full circle this year when the company he built opened an office in Burma, a country he helped to save.

He is survived by five children and 10 grandchildren.