By ARNOLD PICKMERE

Presbyterian churchman. Died aged 89.

The Very Rev Owen Thomas Baragwanath, who in 1999 celebrated the 60th anniversary of his induction as a minister, was the leading Auckland Presbyterian churchman of his day, in war and peace.

He touched the lives of thousands with a wise, human and quietly inspirational approach.

In fact his work in the community was so wide-ranging that few outside his family probably realised its breadth.

He was nationally known in his highest office as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand in 1969-70, and was made an OBE. But a pivotal feature of his life was undoubtedly his 25 years as minister of St David's Church in Khyber Pass, ministering to the inner city.

Not long before he retired as its minister in 1978, he was christening a grandchild. Looking down on the baby, he realised the child was a member of the sixth generation of his family to attend St David's.

Baragwanath's great-grandfather, Thomas McKenzie Fraser, was the first ordained minister of the church.

The second son of three sons of Alexander and Florence Baragwanath (nee Pollard), Owen was raised in a musical home in an atmosphere of quick wit and gentle humour. He was educated at Auckland Grammar School and at the Universities of Auckland, Otago and Edinburgh. He excelled at rugby, playing it at each of his universities and for South Otago, and at field sports and water polo.

During the Depression he worked as a lumper (labourer loading and unloading cargoes) with the John Burns company to pay for his study and to help at home. It also contributed to his understanding of others' needs.

An intended doctoral course in Scotland and his term as an associate at St Giles Cathedral were cut short by World War II. He returned to marry Eileen Richards of Dunedin and served in the Balclutha parish before leaving for the Pacific with the 29th Battalion.

He took part in the 1943 Treasury Islands campaign in the Solomons, the first opposed landing by New Zealanders since Gallipoli. Its objective was to capture the islands from the Japanese, partly so a radar station could be established to assist in the assault on nearby Bougainville. For gallantry under fire, including service as a stretcher bearer, he was mentioned in dispatches.

Throughout the campaign and after the war, when he served as Senior Presbyterian Chaplain to the 3rd NZ Division and later Chaplain Commandant to the New Zealand Military Forces, he provided leadership and comfort to serving men and women.

A practical interest in the men and their well-being was helped by his participation in sport, his bass voice and ukulele, a sense of humour and an eye for others' concerns.

He officiated at the dedication of the Military Museum at Waiouru and valued his appointment succeeding Sir Harold Barrowclough and General McKinnon as patron of the 3rd Division.

After the war he was called first to Knox Dunedin as associate to David Herron, then to a satisfying period at Andersons Bay in the same city where, with his wife, he developed the largest youth group in the Southern Hemisphere.

At St David's in Auckland from 1953, his imposing physical presence, qualities as a preacher and his energy filled three services each Sunday. It was a congregation drawn from across the city, including intellectual, business, trade union and civic leaders, as well as nurses, students and many others. And successive Governors-General, among whom Sir Bernard and Lady Fergusson became particularly close friends.

He regularly visited Mt Eden Prison, various city hospitals and every home in his congregation.

When Baragwanath raised issues in public, his words invariably promoted tolerance and understanding.

In 1964 he suggested that white-skinned members of Commonwealth countries had to get rid of the idea that they were "commissioned officers" and that dark people were "other ranks." He added that a tiny and diminishing minority of Commonwealth people were white-skinned.

He recalled the late Bishop F.A. Bennett, who was a Maori, attending a church conference in Britain at which members repeatedly referred to "our coloured brethren". When Bennett rose to speak, he began his address: "Your grace, colourless brethren ... "

Baragwanath returned to the topic the same year at a civic thanksgiving in the Town Hall when Auckland's population reached 500,000. He said Auckland had to make up its mind whether it would become a city of conflict or a community.

"Are we going to make Auckland a great city enriched by the culture of all these people?" he asked. He looked forward to a day when all minority groups were represented in every level of Auckland society.

Baragwanath worked closely with successive leaders of the Church of England and other denominations, as well as his friends Archbishop Liston and Father Leo Downey of the Catholic Church.

He was a member of the Auckland Grammar Schools Board, the initial Television Advisory Committee, the Dingwall Trust and supported many other institutions, among them Alcoholics Anonymous, Presbyterian Support Services and Reading for the Blind.

A particular interest was the council of the University of Auckland, where with his parishioners Sir Douglas Robb and Sir Henry Cooper, together with another close friend, the registrar James Kirkness, he spearheaded initiatives including the Grafton Hall of Residence and the McLaurin Chapel and chaplaincy.

In the early 1960s when the annual capping book contents and capping activities of Auckland University students regularly upset civic leaders, Baragwanath's suggestion was for a new approach rather than censorship.

A procession through the city centre of the university council, teaching staff and graduates would, he contended, show citizens something of the dignity and academic status of the university - and attract a much larger proportion of the student body than the activities then in vogue.

Baragwanath was at the forefront of religious broadcasting and Bible in Schools. He was also in demand overseas, especially in the United States, and preached at many churches and cathedrals abroad. But he declined invitations to minister in overseas parishes.

Academic friends, including Professors Keys and Blaiklock, contributed to his interest in language, theology and the classics, and he and his wife led tours to the Holy Land.

Owen Baragwanath, who retired to Whangaparaoa but was frequently called on to preach in the ensuing years, is survived by his wife, Eileen, and sons David and Tom and and daughters Lindsay and Mary.

His funeral service on Tuesday was held in St David's Church, the place from which he served his faith and Auckland's people with such distinction.