Frank Marvin: unyielding, methodical and nurturing


Former Mountain Scene publisher Frank Marvin passed away last Friday, aged 69. Colleague Philip Chandler pens a personal tribute.

Frank Marvin lived and breathed Mountain Scene for the past 33 years.

I was lucky to be a colleague and mate for all but the first three.

For those in the know, the paper you’re reading today wouldn’t be here, or at least not in today’s fine shape, without Frank’s contribution.

A former book publishing marketing manager in London, he joined the Scene, then a parish-pump paper known as the “two-minute silence”, as a humble advertising rep.

He told me he only joined to find out which businesses paid their bills so he could set up a proper one.

Within a year or so, however, he was the paper’s boss - and was making waves.

His philosophy was that advertising would follow readership - he had feisty young editors John Perrin, then Denise French, to help him pull the readers.

In 1987, he solidified control when he and company founding chairman Barry Thomas, faced with a hostile takeover bid, bought out the other shareholders.

Frank, whose marketing skills, Thomas says, were better than anybody he’s ever met in business, was brilliant at promoting the ‘brand’.

Stories had to be exclusive - “news is just the plural of new”, he’d always say.

He got developer David Broomfield to gift a section as the main prize in a summer holiday guide liftout, and came up with ideas like a ‘Queenstown Summit’ and an airshow to celebrate the paper’s 21st birthday.

He suggested a Wakatipu WonderHomes series, built around aerial photos of local superhomes.

Actor and wonderhome owner Sam Neill’s complaint to the privacy commissioner that his privacy had been invaded was chucked out - and the case entered New Zealand journalism textbooks.

In response to his hard-edged publishing style, Frank’s ‘hate mail’ in the ’90s included a bag of sheep manure, a monster dead rat and a petition protesting coverage of a young Arrowtowner’s suicide bid while in custody.

He led two epic campaigns - a 14-part series exposing shonky timeshare selling at a Frankton hotel and numerous articles exposing unsafe practices in the whitewater rafting industry.

After making post-midnight calls chasing up a rafting death, he was prosecuted for misuse of a telephone.

One charge was thrown out and he was discharged without conviction on the other.

As the paper continued to make waves - but also make money - it started winning national awards and accolades.

As chairman, Thomas reflected in 2002 that he’d taken heat from cabinet ministers, mayors, business associates, friends, family and advertisers, but always defended Frank and the paper’s independence.

In 2000, then-mayor Warren Cooper imposed an 88-week interview ban till he left office – yep, we kept count most weeks.

Cooper also initiated defamation proceedings over an article - however the case never went to court and nowadays he’s a Scene columnist.

Working with Frank during my 14-year editorship, things could get intense, however we never failed to enjoy each other’s company - especially over post-deadline dinners and bottles of chardonnay.

He stepped back when Thomas’ son Richard took over as general manager in 2002, and five years later sold his shares to the Thomas family.

However he more than kept his hand in as a prolific part-time journalist right till three weeks ago.

He became an avid reader of council and health board agendas and strived to hold those bodies to account.

He made copious Official Information Act requests. Just this year, he won the community reporter of the year at the national Canon Media Awards.

On the same night, he was named the NZ Community Newspapers’ best senior journalist.

Responding to congratulations from colleague Tracey Roxburgh, he quipped: “Thanks Tracey - actually, the category is Reporters 65 and Over … and I was the only entrant.”

Perhaps his most lasting legacy was his patient mentoring role to so many young sales reps and journalists.

Many who’ve gone on to become very successful still credit him years later.

Fittingly, Frank wrote just a month ago about former sales rep John Wikstrom.

The Queenstowner is co-founder of global souvenir-photo firm Magic Memories and has been named a finalist in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award.

The other words that crop up about Frank are ‘meticulous’ and ‘methodical’. His family tell me that minutes before he entered his final slumber, he’d ticked off everything on his final action list.

But most of all, I’ll recall a fearless journalist who often had interviewees quaking in his wake.

Frank recently told Roxburgh about people who, when they saw him, would cross the street.

“I refuse to cross the street for anyone,” he told her.