A much-loved Queenstown character who introduced Masters ski racing to New Zealand died in his sleep on Sunday.
A former Mossburn deer farmer, Willie Grey, 69, started the NZ Skiing Masters at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak as a way for former ski racers to get together again.
“It was immensely popular in the early days, raising considerable funds for junior ski racing in the Wakatipu Basin,” Masters racer Mike Unger says.
Fellow aviator Louisa ‘Choppy’ Patterson says Grey’s after-match ceremonies were famous.
She describes him as a great raconteur.
“He was almost the town crier – he had so many connections with everybody, so he knew what was going on.”
Patterson says he was a very good aviator in the mountains, often ferrying friends to Fiordland and the West Coast in his Cessna 180 – its rego, ‘CYA’, meant ‘cover your arse’.
A keen party-goer, he was the first landlord for popular Queenstown nightspot, The Bunker, when he owned a building in The Mall.
Former German ski racer Guenther Raedler says he inspired Grey to start the NZ Skiing Masters after winning the World Masters in Europe in the mid-80s.
“When we were bachelors in our 30s, Willie showed me the fun world of Queenstown’s apres-ski – with his boyish good looks and searing blue eyes, he was very popular with girls.
“To me, he epitomised the charm of Queenstown and its people.”
Local friend Roger Tompkins comments: “Whether carving gracious turns in fresh powder or at the wheel of a yacht, launch or jetboat, behind the controls of his plane, shouldering a shotgun in the field or gliding into a room in tails and black tie, you had to tug your forelock and give a nod to Mr W. Grey.”
Tompkins adds that his late father was a very successful farmer and decorated World War II pilot, while his mother, who died only a few years ago, was also quite a character.
Grey’s survived by his former wife, Canadian Dianne Culver-Grey, and their children Sophie, David and Cece, and his partner Belinda Guthrie and her boys Henry, Tom and Michael.
A celebration of his life takes place at Lake Hayes’ Amisfield Winery & Bistro this coming Tuesday at 4pm.