Loss of one of the Founding Partners/Directors of Fraser Thomas

Loss of one of the Founding Partners/Directors of Fraser Thomas

It is with sadness that we advise that Rhys Thomas, one of the founding partners/directors of Fraser Thomas Ltd died recently at the age of 93 years.

Rhys was a popular engineer who began his career in Whangarei working for Consultant Jack North and managing the James and North Office. In those early days in the 1950’s, he was closely involved with Theo Busck of Busck Precast Concrete, establishing the use of pre-stressed concrete bridge beams for use on the many concrete bridges Rhys designed and had constructed in Northland, especially in the Hokianga.

Rhys subsequently bought Stanley Annabelle’s practice in Otahuhu. Around the same time, Peter Fraser had established a small office in Papatoetoe, having previously been the Papatoetoe Borough Engineer.

Rhys and Peter subsequently amalgamated in the 1960’s and established the office, in its early form, at Kolmar Road, Hunters Corner, Papatoetoe. At a later stage, Rhys and Peter amalgamated with the survey practice of the late Gerry Gunman and the architectural practice of Brad Shaw.

This partnership became Fraser Thomas Gunman Shaw and Partners. During the 1980’s the partnership became Fraser Thomas Partners, and subsequently Fraser Thomas Ltd.
Throughout this time, Rhys’s main Client base remained in Northland and the Far North. He became the principal Consultant for many local authorities: Otamatea CC, Dargaville BC, Bay of Islands CC, Kaikohe BC, Hokianga CC and Whangaroa CC. He established branch offices in Kaikohe (Surveyor, Murray Wright) and later in Paihia (Engineer, Roger Toplis) and established close working relationships with the local Council staff engineers and contractors in all those areas, many of whom remained personal friends.

Major construction projects completed in the period 1960-2000 included new Water Supply Schemes for the towns of Kaikohe, Kawakawa, Paihia, Opononi, Kerikeri, Rawene; new sewerage schemes for Paihia, Russell, Kerikeri, Rawene, Opononi, Mangonui/Coopers/Taipa, Ahipara, Whatuwhiwhi, Kaiwaka and Maungaturoto. He also oversaw the maintenance and extension work on many more existing schemes. Rhys was responsible for designing innovative and economically affordable systems, capable of coping with large summer tourist peaks yet funded by the smaller local population, maximising the availability of government subsidy funds (his use of forest areas for the treatment of wastewater in Paihia was ground breaking work) and it is a tribute to his expertise that all of those schemes are still operating today.

Rhys was well known for his expertise in waste water management and water supply with a large number of the northland local authorities using his expertise. That many of the facilities he oversaw are still in use to this day is testament to his engineering ability. He established both the Kaikohe and Paihia branch offices which greatly contributed to the success of the Company

Rhys was the engineering Consultant to Mt Cook Airlines and responsible for the design and construction of the original Kerikeri airport.

There are many, many other engineering projects in the North designed under the control of Rhys and these are too numerous to list.

In addition, Rhys acted for several local authorities on similar infrastructure works further south including those at Papakura, Pukekohe, Hauraki Plains, Coromandel, Western Bay of Plenty and Wairoa. Throughout this time, Rhys was Chairman of the Board of Governors responsible for three secondary schools in south Auckland, including Aorere College and Papatoetoe High, and the Manukau Technical School (subsequently became MIT).

Rhys was a master at giving everything he did careful thought and painstaking research. This applied not only to his work but also to his other interests, such as a new building for the Sheltered Workshop; the Lions Club (Rhys served as President for a year), learning to sail, his house renovations and building work, developing an orchard, and more recently the Engineering Heritage Committee.

As both a business and social partner Rhys was exceptional. He contributed to both the running of the business and to its social life. During the years that he was active in the company he was the partner in charge of staff relations and organised many football and cricket matches with other Consultancies. He will be missed.

Rhys spent his last 15 years of retirement establishing an olive orchard on Waiheke Island producing award winning olive oil; he is survived by his wife Annette, two sons (both in engineering), three daughters, 9 grandchildren, and 2 great grandchildren.

Comments by: Roger Toplis, Peter Fraser, Peter Goldsmith and Warren Garlick