‘A true troubleshooter’: The life – and daring repair job – of Noel Robert Smith, 1940 -2022


In May 1977, Noel Smith was called to Marsden A power station in Whangārei to repair a major steam leak in a faulty boiler valve. The operation lasted 18 hours. The consequences of failure were significant. Had the leak not been patched, the Marsden Point Oil Refinery would have had to shut down for $2.5 million – a large sum in any era, an absolute fortune in the late 1970s.

Noel was the first person in the country to perform a high-pressure online leakproofing. For his actions that day, the then-Tokoroa-based engineer won a resource conservation award. At the Parliamentary awards ceremony, Lance Adams-Schneider, Minister for Trade and Industry, described him as “Red Adair of New Zealand, a true troubleshooter”. With characteristic modesty, Noel deflected the compliment and explained that as a newly promoted manager in charge of 16 employees, his days of individual heroism were behind him. He rarely mentioned the incident or the award afterwards.

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Noel has been a troubleshooter all his life, providing support and practical advice in the workplace, for his large blended family, and for any social organization privileged enough to have him as a member or administrator. A strong work ethic was balanced against a cheeky, inclusive sense of humor and a genuine interest in and care for his friends and the wider community. Generous with his time, the most pleasant of company, his dedication to his passion for classic cars and auto mechanics was enriched by his ability to share his knowledge and experience with others.

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Noel Robert Smith was born in Dunedin on May 29, 1940, the first child of Robert Smith and Effie Smith (née Mears). He had three younger brothers and one younger sister.

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Smith's 18-hour repair of a leak at the Marsden A power station in 1977, saving it from shutdown.  Pictured is an excerpt of an award he received.

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Smith’s 18-hour repair of a leak at the Marsden A power station in 1977, saving it from shutdown. Pictured is an excerpt of an award he received.

Noel attended Roxburgh Primary School and Roxburgh High School. At the latter, he became friends with Moira Johnson, the relationship surviving the day on the bus when he consumed some of her household goods, cakes specially baked for her parents. Noel and Moira dated for a few years before she returned to the UK with her family. Subsequent correspondence between the two eventually died down.

Noel left school at the age of 15 and initially worked as a milkman. When the Smith family moved to Wairakei, he accompanied them. In 1958 he began an apprenticeship as a locksmith and lathe operator with Downers Construction during the construction of the Wairakei Power Station.

Noel met Marie Taylor, who was from Taupō, and began courting. Favorite memories from that time were adventures on Noel’s Norton motorcycle. Noel and Marie married in September 1960 and moved to Hamilton where Noel took a job with Jas J. Niven & Co. They initially lived with Noel’s parents and moved into a newly built home on Masters Avenue. In 1961, Noel and Marie’s first child, Jeanette, was born, followed by Malcolm in 1963 and Ian in 1965.

Noel was a loving, caring father. Spending time on the family boat on Lake Karapiro and supporting Jeanette in her exploits with the marching band was typical of a proud and dedicated parent.

In 1971 the Smiths moved to Tokoroa where Noel was employed by Valve Precision Engineering. As a locksmith and lathe operator, he rose to the rank of foreman and after his exploits at Marsden power station, he assumed managerial responsibilities. The Smith family’s camping holidays were enjoyed throughout the North and South Islands. In 1975, Noel and Marie’s daughter, Heather, was born. In 1977, Noel and Marie separated.

Noel stayed with Valve Precision Engineering for 15 years. During this time he shared his enthusiasm for all forms of motorsport and enjoyed motorcycle trips with his children. Noel taught son Malcolm his engineering trade and they worked together for several years.

When Noel met a new partner, he gained three new stepchildren, Warren, Gavin and Rachel. In 1980, Noel moved to Putāruru with Rachel and her mother and started his own business, Post & Rail Painting. As he had all his children, Noel, with patience and quiet instruction, taught Rachel how to drive. When Gavin’s car was stolen in Hamilton one night, Noel, in his underwear, chased it all the way from Te Rapa to Hamilton East. He instilled in his stepchildren a love of camping and travel.

Noel Smith with a Rotorua Morris Minor Club Award.  He was vice-president of the club as well as vice-president of the New Zealand Morris Minor Federation.

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Noel Smith with a Rotorua Morris Minor Club Award. He was vice-president of the club as well as vice-president of the New Zealand Morris Minor Federation.

In 1983 Noel sold the company and returned to engineering, working for Furmanite NZ in Tokoroa.

In 1994, Noel reconnected with his childhood sweetheart, Moira, after she placed an advert for a reunion in a newspaper. After four decades of separation, their friendship was quickly rekindled. Moira moved to Tokoroa where she and Noel married in 1999. As a result, Noel acquired two more stepchildren, Nigel and Shane. Together, Noel and Moira would be blessed with many grandchildren.

Noel and Moira rotated many times early in their marriage, including stints in Whakamaru, Tīrau, Putāruru, and Opal Hot Springs where they lived in a trailer. When they finally settled in Matamata, they established a permanent home where Noel could tinker with old cars and motorcycles in his shed and pay his respects to the vegetable garden. Matamata has also been a starting point for many travels including holidays in Australia, a cruise around New Zealand and attending various Morris Minor Club Conventions from Timaru to Palmerston North.

Noel of course did not go into full retirement and kept his hand as a consultant for Pace Engineering in New Plymouth as well as working part time for IBE in Tokoroa and with son Malcolm for SGS-IVE (Industrial Value Engineering). Outside of work he also assisted daughter Heather and her husband on their chicken farm and remained in that capacity until 2020.

Noel and Moira, a childhood sweetheart who rekindled their relationship 40 years later, married in Tokoroa in 1999.

DELIVERED

Noel and Moira, a childhood sweetheart who rekindled their relationship 40 years later, married in Tokoroa in 1999.

Noel and Moira’s association with the Rotorua Morris Minor Club dates to a Sunday afternoon in 2013 at the Ōhiwa Oyster Farm outside of Ōpōtiki. They immediately established a relationship with the assembled members and iconic vehicles that mirrored their own, and became permanent representatives of the club. They attended almost all of the monthly outings and biannual national conventions, with Noel serving as Vice-President and eventually taking on a dual role as Vice-President of the New Zealand Morris Minor Federation. His contribution to major events such as the 2019 National Convention hosted by the Rotorua Club was invaluable, as was the personal welcome he gave to all new or prospective members. This generosity of time and advice extended to helping anyone experiencing mechanical problems or breakdowns, interactions being softened in a gentle manner that was the furthest thing from condescension.

Noel was comfortable in his own skin and enjoyed a special kind of happiness that came from hard work and family. His smile could brighten any room, his humor was persistent, never cruel and often funny. Attentive to family birthdays – he insisted on attending in person whether it suited or not – he supported his grandchildren’s sporting and cultural activities as much as their parents’. Driving granddaughters to their proms in his beloved Morris Minor was one of his favorite pastimes. As a man of his word, punctuality was a trademark, both privately and professionally. He was a caring, gentle and very loving man.

Noel Robert Smith died on September 8, 2022 surrounded by his family. He is survived by wife Moira, children Jeanette, Malcolm, Ian and Heather, stepchildren Nigel, Shane, Rachel and Warren, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.



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