‘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 took 18 hours. The consequences of failure were significant. Had the leak not been addressed the Marsden Point Oil Refinery would have to close down at a cost of $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 high pressure on-line leak sealing. For his deeds that day the then Tokoroa resident engineer won a resource conservation award. At the parliamentary award ceremony, Lance Adams-Schneider, Minister of Trade and Industry, described him as the “Red Adair of New Zealand, a true troubleshooter”. With typical modesty, Noel deflected the compliment, explaining that as a newly promoted manager, in charge of 16 staff, his days of individual heroism were behind him. He seldom mentioned either the incident or the award thereafter.

Noel was a troubleshooter his entire life, providing support and practical advice in the workplace, for his large, blended family and for any social organisation privileged enough to have him as a member or administrator. A strong work ethic was balanced against a cheeky, inclusive sense of humour and genuine interest in and care for his friends and the wider community. Generous with his time, the most pleasant of company, his indulgence of his passion for classic cars and auto mechanics was made richer by his capacity to share his knowledge and experiences with others.

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

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


Smith’s 18-hour repair on a leak at Marsden A power station in 1977, saving it from shutdown. Pictured is a clipping about 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 home economics wares, cakes that had been baked especially for her parents. Noel and Moira dated for a couple of years before she returned to the United Kingdom with her family. Subsequent correspondence between the two eventually subsided.

At the age of 15 Noel left school, working initially as a milkman. When the Smith family moved to Wairakei he accompanied them. In 1958, he began an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner with Downers Construction during the building of the Wairakei Power Station.

Noel met Marie Taylor, who hailed from Taupō, and began courting. Favourite memories of this time involved adventures had on Noel’s Norton motorcycle. Noel and Marie were married in September 1960 and moved to Hamilton, where Noel took a position with Jas J. Niven & Co. Living initially with Noel’s parents, they shifted into a newly built house 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, attentive father. Time spent at Lake Karāpiro on the family dinghy and supporting Jeanette in her marching band exploits were typical of a proud and involved parent.

In 1971, the Smiths shifted to Tokoroa where Noel was employed by Valve Precision Engineering. A fitter and turner, he progressed to the position of foreman then assumed the responsibility of manager after his Marsden power station heroics. Smith family camping holidays were enjoyed all over the North and South Islands. In 1975, Noel and Marie’s daughter Heather was born. In 1977, Noel and Marie separated.

Noel remained at Valve Precision Engineering for 15 years. During this time he shared his enthusiasm for all forms of motorsport and enjoyed motorbike 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. Shifting to Putāruru in 1980 with Rachel and her mother, Noel started his own business, Post & Rail Painting. As he had done with all his children, with patience and quiet instruction Noel taught Rachel to drive. When Gavin’s car was stolen one night in Hamilton, Noel gave chase in his underwear, all the way from Te Rapa to Hamilton East. He instilled a love of camping and travel in his stepchildren.

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.


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 business and returned to his engineering profession, working for Furmanite NZ in Tokoroa.

In 1994, Noel reconnected with his childhood sweetheart Moira, after she placed an advertisement for a reunion in a newspaper. After four decades apart, their friendship was swiftly rekindled. Moira moved to Tokoroa, where she and Noel were married in 1999. As a consequence, Noel acquired two further stepchildren, Nigel and Shane. Together, Noel and Moira would be blessed with many grandchildren.

Noel and Moira shifted many times early in their marriage, including stints in Whakamaru, Te Rau, Putāruru and Opal Hot Springs, where they lived in a caravan. Eventually settling in Matamata, they established a home of permanence, where Noel could tinker in his shed with old cars and motorbikes and give the vegetable garden its due. Matamata was also a departure point for many travels, including holidays in Australia, a cruise around New Zealand and attendance at various Morris Minor Club Conventions, from Timaru to Palmerston North.

Noel did not take naturally to full retirement, keeping his hand in as a consultant for Pace Engineering in New Plymouth as well as part-time work for IBE in Tokoroa and with son Malcolm for SGS-IVE (Industrial Value Engineering). Outsidehis profession he also assisted daughter Heather and her husband on their chicken farm, continuing in this capacity until 2020.

Childhood sweethearts who rekindled their relationship 40 years later, Noel and Moira were married in Tokoroa in 1999.


Childhood sweethearts who rekindled their relationship 40 years later, Noel and Moira were married in Tokoroa in 1999.

Noel and Moira’s association with the Rotorua Morris Minor Club dated to a Sunday afternoon in 2013 at the Ōhiwa Oyster Farm outside Ōpōtiki. Immediately establishing a rapport with the gathered members and iconic vehicles which mirrored their own, they became stalwarts of the club, attending almost all the monthly outings and semi-annual national conventions, with Noel serving as vice-president and eventually doing double-duty as vice-president of the New Zealand Morris Minor Federation. His contribution to large events, such as the 2019 National Convention, hosted by the Rotorua club was as invaluable as the welcome he showed personally to any new or prospective members. This generosity of time and advice extended to helping any experiencing mechanical problems or breakdowns, interactions made the kinder by a soft manner that was the furthest thing from condescension.

Comfortable in his own skin, Noel enjoyed a special brand of happiness grounded in hard work and family. His smile could light up any room, his humour was persistent, never cruel and often funny. Attentive to family birthdays – insisting on visiting personally, whether convenient or not – he was as supportive of the sporting and cultural activities of his grandchildren as he had been of those of their parents. Chauffeuring granddaughters to their school balls in his beloved Morris Minor was a favourite activity. A man of his word, punctuality was a trademark, as much in his personal life as it was professionally. He was a caring, gentle and very loving man.

Noel Robert Smith died 8 September, 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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