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Friday, May 13, 2011

Hundreds farewell 'city father'

Hundreds farewell 'city father'

Last updated 17:38 13/05/2011
Family and friends gathered to farewell Christchurch identity Maurice Carter at St Marys on Manchester Street where his son David Carter talked about his father.
A crowd of hundreds have farewelled Christchurch property developer and philanthropist Maurice Carter,

Over 300 people gathered at St Mary's Catholic Church on Friday to pay their respects to Carter, who served for 33 years as a Christchurch City councillor, the last six years as deputy mayor.

Father Denis Nolan, who led the service, said the 93-year-old had been described as a "city father" for the work which he had done in the community.

"He had a great involvement with Christchurch: he knew the city well and had a heart for it."

Carter's son, Agriculture Minister David Carter, praised his father's "legendary" work ethic, generosity and humility.

"Despite your achievements, you lived and died a humble man."

Another son, Philip Carter, said he had been "instrumental" in strengthening the council's housing stock during his time on the council.

Obituary - From carpenter to construction magnate

A day's work for Maurice Carter began with a bike ride through the dark from Sumner to the Christchurch Railway Station. It ended with the return bike ride, into a stiff easterly wind, also through the dark. In between, he travelled by train to and from Burnham, where he built army barracks.

From such humble beginnings, the migrant English carpenter became a leading Christchurch construction magnate and property developer, a city and regional councillor who started a political dynasty and a philanthropist whose charitable trust has given millions of dollars to local causes.

Carter died on Monday, aged 93.

Quiet, modest and dedicated to his family, he would have been embarrassed to be depicted as the self-made man who became a father of Christchurch.

The son of a chemist in Bradford, Yorkshire, he completed a carpentry apprenticeship there. In 1936, he joined some mates on their great OE, working on a plantation in Argentina. This sparked a desire to see the world and, in 1938, he came to Christchurch. World War II broke out the following year and Carter joined the army, then switched to the air force.

However, his hopes of serving overseas were dashed when his carpentry skills led to him being "manpowered" by the Department of Defence to work for Williamson Construction on army buildings at Burnham and Weedons.

The days were long and wearying, but a meeting at Burnham Army Camp soon made them seem shorter but sweeter. His eye rested on a member of a concert party visiting Burnham to entertain the troops. She was well- known pianist and music teacher Merle Cunningham. After a brief courtship, they married in 1942 and settled in Sumner. They had five children.

Carter launched his own business after the war. He called it the Carter Group, although it began as a one-man band, with help from his wife, who drove a former ambulance carrying materials to building sites.

He specialised in house building and was soon able to take on an apprentice. He was a firm believer in the apprenticeship system and was renowned for his training of apprentices.

Demand for houses was strong after the war and Carter had to battle shortages of materials and labour. He restricted operations to home building in the 1950s and his company grew steadily. At its peak, he employed 100 workers and built 100 houses a year. He bought a farm at Coalgate and moved his family there briefly, before returning to the city.

The building boom, which continued into the 1960s, produced thousands of new houses. It established the residential suburbs of Bryndwr and Burnside.

Private companies built 60 per cent of new houses there, with the Carter Group prominent among them. The company then diversified into property development, the construction of shopping blocks and hotels, and hotel management. It built up a portfolio of commercial buildings and undertook some of the largest developments in central Christchurch.

Even into his 80s, Carter played a leading role in his company, jogging each day before going into the office. When age wearied his knees, he reverted to cycling.

Carter and his wife established the Maurice R Carter Charitable Trust in the 1960s. They vested in the trust a block of shops they had developed in Bryndwr. Rents from the shops funded annual grants to Christchurch charitable causes.

Carter was a Christchurch City councillor from 1956 to 1989. For the last six of those years, he was deputy mayor to his friend, Sir Hamish Hay. He sat on the Christchurch Drainage Board for 27 years, nine as chairman. He was the council representative on the Regional Planning Authority and the Canterbury United Council. These led him to a seat on the Canterbury Regional Council, when it was established in 1989.

He once listed his greatest sources of satisfaction in local government as progress in urban renewal, the expansion of pensioner housing, extension of the sewerage network and the development of Christchurch International Airport.

He rejected the criticism sometimes raised that he used his council position to promote his company's interests. The company operated mostly in the former Waimairi District, beyond city council control.

He avoided conflicts of interest. Had there been any, they would have been detected by local body audits, he said.

Following him as Christchurch City councillors were son Philip, through the 1990s, and grandson Tim, who was elected last year. Son David is an MP and Minister of Agriculture.

Carter and his wife were quiet benefactors to the local arts, education, health and the Catholic Church. They were keen travellers and Carter enjoyed golf. Merle's death in 2008 was a bitter blow.

- The Press

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