Petrolhead not one to stay idle

Pulling the plug: Stuart Maclean

Despite almost 50 years working in the resort, newly-retired Stuart Maclean is best-known for his community roles, whether co-founding Destination Queenstown or pursuing his lifetime passion for motorsport. He talks to Philip Chandler about what’s driven him

If anyone deserves a break, it’s newly-retired Queenstowner Stuart Maclean.

Besides a 47-year-long working life in the resort, he’s been involved in a giddy number of community activities.

A founder of tourism promotion body Destination Queenstown, he’s also been a councillor, a president or chairman of various groups, a weatherman, a passionate petrolhead who’s been recognised by MotorSport New Zealand and a devoted husband and father of three daughters.

He’s also been in the thick of two local disasters – a street-race tragedy in 1998 and the record flood the following year.

Career-wise, he started and finished in the insurance game.

The Southlander was transferred from Invercargill to Queenstown to open the NZ Insurance office in November, 1969.

Already married to Queenstown-born Pam, “the company thought that my credentials were assisted by having a wife who came from here”.

An early involvement was with Jaycees.

“When I left school, my interest was motorsport and I joined the Southland Sports Car Club and I found it very difficult to stand up on my feet and espouse my views.

“I learnt to public-speak [through Jaycees] and now they can’t shut me up.”

In his early Queenstown days, he helped out veteran weatherman David Crow at his TAB during Christmas/New Year holidays.

He discovered Crow took the town’s weather recordings and has helped him out ever since when he’s been away.

It’s hard to believe now but Maclean says Queenstown was too small back then.

He recalls going to the pub on Friday night with The Mall butcher, “then on Monday morning about three people said, ‘oh, you went to the pub on Friday with Ken Blackwood’.”

Maclean joined the tourism industry in the 1980s, opening a travel office for Skyline Enterprise, then becoming area boss for Atlantic & Pacific Travel.

As chairman of the local National Travel Association branch, he got involved in setting up DQ – then the Queenstown Promotion Bureau.

“That was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done outside of work – it took hours and hours, we had meetings at 7.30am to try to get the thing formulated.”

From 1984 till ’87, he was also DQ’s first president.

He recalls the organisation suffering for lack of funding till then-local accountant Mike Ross pushed for a commercial rating levy that was adopted by then-mayor John Davies and his council.

Maclean also served as a councillor under Davies, then David Bradford, followed by a stint as a planning commissioner.

Council was a little bit different from business – “it took three months for anything to happen”.

Leaving the travel industry, he co-started a menswear shop – “we couldn’t have picked a worse time, after the 1987 global financial crash” – and a thrill-ride simulator.

In the mid-’90s, then-local insurance agent Garry Patterson convinced Maclean to return to his original vocation.

“He said, ‘we can’t get any claims assessed in this town’.”

His biggest drama was the aftermath of the 1999 flood, which inundated hundreds of businesses.

“Some nights we’d still be working through till 11.30, and we’d start again at 8.30.”

Maclean’s best known for his lifetime’s involvement in motorsport.

However he didn’t have a long time behind the wheel.

“The reason I gave up is when I got married I couldn’t afford to have a wife, a house and go motor racing.

“And, equally, I wasn’t going to become world champion.”

Instead he turned to stewarding race meetings, which he likens to a rugby referee’s job.

MotorSport NZ recognised him for his contribution in 1996, and next month will be 50 years since he started the role – “I’m the longest-serving ever in NZ”.

Unfortunately, he was chairman of the organisation running the Queenstown street race when two spectators were killed in 1998.

“It was one of the more unpleasant things I’ve been involved with and it knocked the motorsport fraternity in Queenstown.”

It took more than 10 years before the local car club, which he’s a life member of, revved up again. Among other involvements, Maclean’s been chairman of the local National Party branch and Rotary Club president.

“I’ve always liked to be involved.

“I mean, it’s a town that’s easy to get involved with.”

He’s leaving insurance loss adjusters Crawford & Company after 22 years.

Now that he’s aged in his early 70s, “I’ve decided enough is enough”.

Not that he’ll let his motor idle.

“I will find things that I want to do and I’ll hopefully find a part-time job to keep me out of mischief.”