Rewi Richard Thomas Roach
b 14.07.1924, d 14.04.2023
The story of Rewi (Dick) Roach is largely one written first-hand describing old Ōtaki.
Rewi wrote prolifically – and eloquently – about his childhood days growing up in a family that struggled with loss, poverty and racism.
Ultimately his story was one of hope and overcoming adversity, to make a mark in a world that put barriers in the way of talented young Māori.
Rewi was born at the maternity hospital in Dunstan Street, Ōtaki, the first child of William Hakaraia Roach and Bernadine Maud Maddock. The family home was a modest dwelling on the corner of Waerenga Road and the highway, where New World is today.
Bill was a widower already with eight children. He and first wife Rehu’s youngest children, Bosun and Twan, along with their older sisters Lulu and Doolie, had been taken in by their grandmother, Mere Roach, after Rehu died. Mere also lived on Waerenga Road.
Daughter Mardi was sent to Taupō to be raised by relatives, and the eldest of the family, Cork, lived his entire life after his mother died in a bach on Rāhui road between the Ōtaki Milk Station and the racecourse.
Rewi’s mother, Bernadine, married Bill when she was only 17; he was 44.
Their house was owned by the family of Bill’s first wife, Rehu. Bernadine and Bill had nine children before Bill died in a car crash at Waikanae in 1939.
Aged only 33, Bernadine had eight children to look after: Rewi, Howie, Helen, Hoani, Pat, Ron, Bevil and Alice (James had died aged 7 months).
When Rewi developed a bronchial condition as a youngster he went to his Maddock grandparents, Richard and Alice, who also lived in Ōtaki. He lived with them until he was 17. He attended Ōtaki School and Levin District High School, later to be Horowhenua College, where he passed his university entrance exams.
Encouraged by Guy Evans, the son of the bank manager, Rewi decided to do his Engineering Preliminary at Canterbury University.
He left Ōtaki for Christchurch in 1942 with his bike and one suitcase containing his deceased father’s navy blue suit.
In 1943 Rewi enlisted for military service and joined the Air Force. He trained in Canada and then was sent to England where he joined the British Bomber Command.
After the war Rewi returned to Canterbury University to complete his civil engineering degree.
Following that he worked for the Ministry of Works for four years to become a registered civil engineer.
During that time he met Robin Ross and together, over the next nine years, they had a four children; Claire, Helen, Stephen and Robert.
Once his time at the Ministry of Works was completed, he worked for Gisborne City Council as assistant city engineer and then Whanganui City Council as city engineer.
However he always aspired to bigger things and moved to Mobil Oil as its sales manager for bitumen products. This entailed a move for the family to Auckland.
After two and a half years Rewi was transferred to Wellington where he completed his BCom part time at Victoria University.
During this time Robin and Rewi’s youngest son, Robert, developed leukaemia, eventually succumbing to the disease aged only 6.
Robin and Dick struggled on together for a few more years.
During this time Rewi changed jobs to work for Hygrade Packaging, part of the ACI Group.
Eventually the marriage failed and Rewi moved to Australia with ACI. A few changes of job later, Rewi set up business as a property developer. He continued in this line of work until he retired aged 88.
In his time in Australia, Rewi met and married Kay Illingworth. They had two children, Joshua and Adrianna.
In later years, Rewi researched old Ōtaki history, and wrote several stories for the Otaki Historical Journal about Ōtaki and his early years. One of those stories, Christmas 1932 under the apricot tree, was reproduced by the New Zealand Listener in 2016.
Rewi died in Sydney aged 98, leaving five children, 10 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
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