Thomas Raymond Woolliams (known to all as Ray), a former mayor of the Rotorua City Council has died after a short illness, at the age of 82, leaving behind June; his wife of 57 years and his loving family.
Ray Woolliams was born in Rotorua in 1929, to Les and Ethel Woolliams, the eldest child of four children; Laurna,
Beverley and younger brother Lou.
Ray's grandfather Louis arrived in Rotorua, from England, just after the Tarawera eruption. Louis helped set up the
Rotorua Council and became known as `the father of the city'.
Ray attended Rotorua Primary and then Rotorua High School (now RBHS), as his father did before him. He rode
his horse, Molly to high school, hitching her beside the water trough on the corner of Pererika St.
"I was pretty good at maths, but I wasn't too good at school work. I used to fix the headmaster's car and I'm sure it was the only reason I wasn't expelled'' Ray said.
He left school when he was about 14 but in 2009 was made a member of the `Hall of Fame' at Rotorua Boys' High School.
He started his working life as a farmhand on the Vercoe Farm on the shores of Lake Rotoiti but it wasn't long before Ray headed off to the `big smoke'. He went to Auckland for a three-year electrician's apprenticeship in the mid 1940s.
On his return to Rotorua he joined his father Les in the family business, Woolliams Electrical Ltd, in Eruera St.
When he met June Peters in 1953, Ray had a new car, but he sold it for a second-hand one when they announced their engagement.
"Well, I knew it was going to cost a bit having a wife and a family to support,'' he previously told The Daily Post.
The couple met at a singles' dance in the Old Geyser Hall in Malfroy Rd (now the Victory Church Hall) .
"It was instant attraction. He had a new car,'' said June.
She vividly remembers the new beige Hillman car.
"There were not many blokes around with a nice new car in those days. I was disappointed when he sold it for an old one,'' she said.
Two years after they met the couple married at the old St Luke's Church in Haupapa St on July 23, 1955.
Setting up a small workshop in the garage at the rear of their house, Ray operated his electrical business from home while his wife raised the couple's three children Ann, Christine and Craig.
When the children started school, Ray switched from being an electrician to a grocer with a grocery store in Eruera
Ray and June started the first independently owned supermarket in Rotorua, called 'Foodland' . Ray came back for a trip to Australia thinking the 'Foodland' Australian chain had a great name. The store opened in Hinemoa St, opposite the old Rotorua Post Office, in the late 60s, one week after Woolworths opened.
Working alongside him were wife June, Manager Herb Sewell (of Herb's restaurant and Urbano Bistro) and Herb's wife, Annette. The new venture was a great success. The two mums looked after each other's children while the other worked .
As far as Ray was concerned retailing was the future, but when McKenzies opened in Tutanekai St around the corner, Foodland was forced to close.
Now Ray turned his mind to tourism.
Ray and June bought the lease at Hell's Gate in 1967 and operated the business for 26 years. As always, it was a family affair. Marj Peters (June's mother) was put in charge of gardens and planted the Hell's Gate bushwalk, with Ray's water lily pond, central. Children Ann, Christine and Craig worked weekends and school holidays. The family often set up camp, in the caravan, on the empty section next door, at Christmas time.
When tour bus drivers asked for backhanders to visit the local tourist attractions, in the 70s, Ray made a decision, he would not pay up to 50 per cent of the visitor's spend in the souvenir shop, to a tour bus driver, who Ray believed was already being paid to do his job.
This move abruptly ended bus tours visiting Hell's Gate.
Every cloud had a silver lining. Ray saw a great future in tourism and began to actively target the camper van and rental car market long before this group of visitors were named FITs (Free Independent Travelers).
In 1968, Hell's Gate became the first Rotorua business to provide tourists with a hangi and concert tour. Ray purchased a bus and put a tour together incorporating Hell's Gate and the Rotoiti Cruises, owned by Trevor and Faye Beaver. If there was only one paying visitor, the bus would go. Visitors would walk around the thermal reserve and on their return to the cafe they were served a hangi, cooked in the steam cookers at Hell's Gate. The hangi comprised of chicken, potato, carrots, kumara, followed by steamed pudding and cream.
After dinner the visitors were bused to the boat ramp on the shore of Lake Rotoiti, cruising for a soak at the Rotoiti Hot Pools. The bus would travel back to Okere in time to pick them up. On occasions Ray would book kiwi entertainers, Lou and Simon, or a kapa haka group to entertain their tourists.
Ray was adventurous and a risk taker. With the support of June, he bought harness racing horses and even tried his hand at drilling for oil, on the site of the Silver Fern Motel . He was President of the Rotorua Brass Band which he and June both loved. Ray even suggested daughter Ann learn the bagpipes because he liked the idea of becoming involved in the Rotorua Pipe Band.
In 1970 Ray and June purchased Fairy Springs (where Mitai Village is situated now) and the family moved into the house on the property. The children loved it, with peacocks walking the lawns and a pet deer Lucy and room in the paddock for an old mare retired from her trotting days.
However, operating daily businesses had not made it easy for family holidays, said June.
"Many times Ray would just park the caravan up beside the lake at Ngakuru, or drop us off at the Mount for six weeks, before we would see him again.''
Later on, with a love of deep sea fishing the family often had holidays in a bach they owned at Ohope where they went fishing out of Whakatane, where Ray and June were members of the Whakatane Deep Sea Fishing Club.
Ray later became became president of the club.
A strong representative for business, Ray was a member of the Executive for the Rotorua Chamber of Commerce from 1963 to 1968.
In 1968, Ray became the third generation in the Woolliams family to sit on a Rotorua Council.
Ray spent 9 years on the Rotorua City Council, heading the town planning committee for two terms. He was so impressed with town planning as a career direction, he attempted to interest all of his three children into this path.
Ray wanted an international airport for Rotorua, but his idea never took hold with the Rotorua City Council. He believed the airport should be situated between Tauranga and Rotorua so the costs could be shared by both councils.
An idea he and other council members saw in Australia brought about the Rotorua Maori Meter Maids. June Northcroft was the first, putting coins in meters to help out drivers in Rotorua.
Ray was elected tenth Mayor of Rotorua City, from 1977-1979 and was the last mayor before the city amalgamated with the Rotorua County Council and became the Rotorua District Council in April 1979.
He was always proud of the fact, he sat down to dinner, beside the Queen of Denmark and Queen Elizabeth II, during his time with the council.
He was chairman of the former Bay of Plenty catchment commission for many years and had a passionate interest in the well being of Lake Rotorua. He was also the Rotorua City Council representative on the Auckland War Memorial Museum Committee.
With community aspirations fulfilled, Ray and June offered Hell's Gate shares to Ray's brother Lou and wife Robyn Woolliams and when their daughter Christine wanted to come back to live in Rotorua, they were also offered a shareholding packet.
With Hell's Gate working well in the hands of his daughter, his brother and family, farming was next on the agenda. In the mid 70s realising a lifelong dream fuelled by his childhood memories of his days on the Vercoe farm, Ray and June bought a farm at Kaharoa. They converted it for deer, stocking it with imported red deer from Woburn Abbey Deer Park in Bedfordshire and Warnham Park in Sussex.
By the time Ray and June retired from farming and moved into town, when he was 60, Ray was the proud world record holder for antler points on a Woburn/Warnham cross red stag.
Living back in town, Ray and June ventured into the accommodation industry, as Ray's Grandfather Louis had in the late 1880's- first with the Thirwell Hotel in Eruera St and later with the Mansions Hotel also in Eruera St.
In 1997 June and Ray opened Ann's Volcanic Rotorua Motel and Serviced Apartments, in Malfroy Rd and in 2000,
bought Catellis Motor Lodge in Taupo.
At the same time Ray and June expanded the extended family's holdings in tourism, to include the Department of Conservation lease on another local thermal attraction, Waimangu Volcanic Valley.
With Ray as chairman Waimangu achieved four New Zealand Tourism Awards, Winner 2004 Tourism Innovator Award: Innovation in Eco-Tourism, Winner 2003 Tourism Innovator Award: Innovation in Eco-Tourism, Winner 2002 Tourism Innovator Award: Service to the Environment, Winner Visitor Activities and Attractions Award: Eco Tourism.
Ray and June, Lou and Robyn retired in 2005, selling their majority shareholding package to Ray's former son-in-law Harvey James.
June and Ray Woolliams were married 57 years. Ray suffered from Alzheimer's Disease and had spent the last 19 months in Cantabria Rest Home, under the care of the staff there.
Ray will be remembered with love by his family, wife June, Mother-in-law Marj Peters, daughter Ann Woolliams, daughter Christine Hobbs and her husband Stewart , son Craig Woolliams and his wife Cheryl, his six grandchildren Laura James, Emily Willers and her husband Blair, Harry and Luke Simperingham, India and Mickey Woolliams, his sisters Laurna Woolliams and Beverley Walker and brother Lou Woolliams and Lou's wife Robyn.
-Supplied by Ann Woolliams