Big heart behind gruff front


One of the few Queenstowners best known by initials, ‘BC’, aka Bryan Cecil Douglas, died last month after spending his last five-and-a-half years at the local Bupa care home.  PHILIP CHANDLER talks to family members and friends about his amazing contribution to the resort over six decades

Queenstowner Bryan Douglas, universally known as ‘BC’, who passed away last month,  aged 84, made a massive contribution to a town he lived in from the ‘50s.

In admin roles like club captain, he probably did more behind the scenes for the Wakatipu Rugby Club than anyone else.

He had almost 30 years with the Queenstown fire police, doing traffic control during brigade callouts, and was the second person to head it up.

In his retirement, he did a lot of voluntary work for community support centre Happiness House, and regularly delivered firewood to the elderly.

For most of his working career he was a hard-working block- and bricklayer, said to be the best builder of outdoor fireplaces in the district.

Above all, he was a devoted family man, and is survived by four children, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Apart from his red Hilux, Douglas was best renowned for his gruffness.

Though that was testament to a no-nonsense nature plenty of young people attested to, it was also something of an act, his family say.

And behind that lurked an incredibly big-hearted person who’d give you the shirt off his back.

Born in Reefton, on the West Coast, in 1937, he was educated in Christchurch, leaving  school at 15 to pursue a building apprenticeship.

At school he played rugby but afterwards, apparently disillusioned by all the kicking, played
league and represented Canterbury.

Later in life ‘‘all he did was bag rugby league because it was a boofhead game’’, son Greg

He moved to Dunedin, then in ‘57 to Queenstown to work on an extension of the then-O’Connells Hotel — when that job finished he retrained to become a blocklayer.

On a blind date he met Bernadette O’Connell, whose parents owned the hotel, and they married in ‘60.

He loved her to pieces, friend Peter Doyle says.

They had five children, Suzanne, Debby, Michelle, Greg and Mark.

A highlight was holidaying at the top of the lake, then at Pigeon Island, on Lake Whakatipu, where he and builder mate Mike Robinson built a bach.

Sadly, Bernadette died of a sudden brain haemorrhage in 1980, aged 39.

Douglas then did an amazing job raising the family though he also had a lot of helpers, Michelle says.

Maybe for this reason he became obsessed with organising and making lists, and certainly kept a tidy house.

The family’s original home fronted Beach Street, opposite O’Connells Hotel, and backed onto Shotover St, before subsequent moves to Huff St and Panorama Terrace.

More family tragedy came in ‘95 when Mark died in an accident, aged 20.

Throughout this time, the rugby club was his other ‘family’.

He was involved in building the clubrooms, fundraising through himself and many others appearing as extras for the TV kids’ series Hunter’s Gold shot in Queenstown in ‘76.

As club captain in the ‘80s and ‘90s, ‘‘he was the guy who held it all together’’, former player and coach Kelvin Collins says.

‘‘He made sure everything was clean and tidy and grounds were marked out and nobody spilt tomato sauce.’’

Fellow rugby stalwart Phil Wilson says Douglas was ‘‘a controller of rowdy young men’’ who deserved his life membership ‘‘10 times over’’.

He arranged the photos in the clubrooms and ran the bar.

‘‘He closed the bar and sent everybody out to the sponsors’’, like Chico’s and Lone Star.

Greg also reflects on his dad as a hard worker.

‘‘It was tough work, all the building sites were on the shady side of steep hills like Fernhill.

‘‘He’d go to work in a woollen singlet and a bush shirt — in summer it was a cotton singlet and a bush shirt.’’

Then, after a big week, he’d devote Saturday to rugby and Sunday to chopping wood.

Long-time local, former mayor Warren Cooper, recalls Douglas always referred to ‘‘our town’’, not Queenstown, ‘‘so there was a personal ownership thing’’.

‘‘He was involved so much in town as a giving sort of person.’’