ODT obit: Newsman driven to be the best


On September 18, former publisher and co-owner of Mountain Scene Frank Marvin died, aged 69. Queenstown reporter and colleague Tracey Roxburgh pens a tribute.

When former publisher and journalist Frank Marvin left the Queenstown Memorial Centre for the final time last Friday, the floor shook and the walls echoed as mourners stood stomping their feet and clapping.

It was the ultimate recognition for the highly respected newspaperman, harking back to the Fleet St tradition of ‘‘banging out’’ — where printers would bang metal hammers and rulers against the desks as a longstanding member of staff left for the last time.

For us, it was an opportunity to acknowledge Frank and his 33 years’ service to Mountain Scene — a title he helped shape into the country’s best community newspaper, one he continued writing for until three weeks before his death.

To describe a man who was, in so many respects, indescribable is no easy feat.

He was hard-working, uncompromising, driven. A man with high standards who expected the same of others, someone who believed in being honest.

With that, his son Glenn Marvin said, came the responsibility of making the right decisions — ones which were not always popular or easy, but decisions that earned him respect and then trust.

But, in many ways, Frank was also an enigma.

While he worked tirelessly in the Queenstown community for three decades at Mountain Scene — initially as a sales rep before taking over the day-today operations, later becoming a co-owner — few got to know the man behind the byline.

Born in Auckland on July 9, 1946, the eldest son of Irene (nee List) and Eric Marvin, Frank attended Matamata Primary School, in Waikato, before his family went back to Auckland where he went to Balmoral Intermediate School, spending his second year there as a prefect.

At Mt Albert Boys’ Grammar he developed his love of cricket — for several years he was the Manukau Cricket Club’s opening batsman and kept wicket — and music.

A drummer, Frank and some friends formed a band called The Trends, playing in venues around Auckland, social events and private parties.

Although he gained University Entrance, he chose instead to begin forging his career in sales, taking up a job at advertising agency Ruck Wrathall, working for John Ruck, where he stayed for six years until Mr Ruck moved to the United Kingdom.

In 1967 Frank married his first wife, Faye Strand, and the couple had three sons, Rod, Brent and Glenn.

Frank had been managing an Auckland-based car valet firm but moved to Wellington when he was asked to open a branch there.

The firm thrived, but when his father sent Frank a job advertisement for a position in the United Kingdom, Frank decided to apply.

English publishing company Marshall Cavendish was looking to recruit a ‘‘top gun’’ from New Zealand to negotiate between a union and senior management — an all-expenses-paid position — in London.

The person fielding the applications was Frank’s first boss, Mr Ruck.

Son Brent Marvin said Frank’s parents were ‘‘devastated’’ when their eldest son was offered the job and decided to leave, but Frank thrived in London.

He rose to management at Marshall Cavendish in no time, later starting his own company installing burglar and fire alarms and was one of the foundation members of the Social Democratic Party.

Later the three boys returned to New Zealand with their mother after the relationship ended, while Frank remained in the UK.

There he met his second wife, Teresa Stone, and after 10 years’ travelling through work they decided to return to New Zealand. A holiday in Queenstown in the early 1980s led them to settle in the resort, which was where their daughters, Laura and Francesca, were born.

At his funeral, eldest son Rod Marvin said Frank ‘‘grew into being a dad’’, mellowing in his later years.

His children spoke of a man who was focused, thoughtful and had strong convictions.

He also wasn’t the ‘‘most flexible person’’, Rod said.

‘‘[He] was the only person I know who would ring to prearrange a time for a phone call a few days ahead.’’

Daughter Laura Davis said from an early age she and Francesca were taught being average wasn’t an option.

After Francesca, aged 7, announced she wanted to be a hairdresser, Frank was determined she would be ‘‘the best hairdresser there is’’.

And, at the tender age of 10, Laura was informed by her father now was the time to ‘‘choose what I was going to study and at which university I would study it’’.

That kind of focus, determination and vision was on display from Frank’s first days at Mountain Scene, after he joined the paper as an advertising rep.

Within a year, Frank was running the paper, turning it from a tourist publication to a bonafide newspaper — often referred to as ‘‘Mountain Scream’’ — a paper many loved to hate.

In 1987 Frank solidified control when he and Barry Thomas bought out the other shareholders in the face of a hostile takeover bid.

He was credited with introducing the weekly’s hard-news edge, ingraining into the news team: ‘‘news is simply the plural of new’’.

And, he was a hard task master — it wasn’t uncommon for Frank, with deadline looming, to decide the page one lead wasn’t good enough.

If a story rated too low on Frank’s ‘‘Richter scale’’ of news, regardless of the time or day, he had no qualms ditching the story and telling the reporters to find another one.

Colleague and friend Philip ‘‘Scoop’’ Chandler, who worked with Frank for 30 years, said Monday nights would see the pair preparing that week’s edition over Steinlager at a local establishment.

‘‘It was all about grabbing the reader each week; we had to renew that every time . . . we needed to grab the reader by the balls, really.

‘‘I’d put up a [story] . . . and he’d say ‘have you got something better?’.

‘‘He had very high standards.’’

As Frank himself once said in a television interview about 10 years ago, following a redesign of the Scene: ‘‘Boring, tame. These are things to be afraid of’’.

On a Wednesday, once the paper had gone to bed, Chandler and Frank would visit the Mandarin restaurant, which was where Frank met a young Japanese waitress, named Michiko Hashimoto, about 18 years ago.

The intensive care nurse had recently arrived in the resort and she quickly turned Frank’s head.

‘‘She would serve us; I didn’t really spot it, but . . . he must have invited her out, and the rest is history,’’ Chandler said.

The pair’s friendship grew and was cemented in 2003 when they married in Wanaka.

At work, his hard-hitting attitude to journalism meant his time at the helm of the Scene wasn’t without incident.

In 1990 a long-time local, upset at a long-forgotten story, strolled into the Scene office and emptied a full bag of sheep manure on Frank’s desk before smiling and leaving without saying a word.

Four years later he became the first reporter in New Zealand to face criminal charges over the use of a telephone, following late-night phone calls after a spate of rafting deaths on the Shotover River.

One charge was thrown out by the judge part way through a two-day trial, and Frank was discharged without conviction on the other. Frank took all of it on the chin.

He stepped back in 2002 when Mr Thomas’ son, Richard, took over as general manager and five years later sold his shares to the Thomas family, semi-retiring in 2007, but continuing to work part-time for the paper as a journalist until three weeks before his death.

His mentorship across all departments proved invaluable to the countless staff who walked the hallowed halls over the years, many of whom have since gone on to excel in sales and journalism careers, attributed largely to his training.

The Mountain Scene, under Frank, was more than a newspaper; it was a business school.

While he wasn’t a trained journalist, he had ink in his veins and a natural ability to sniff out the scoops, proven by honours he received earlier this year, winning the community reporter of the year at the Canon Media Awards and the NZ Community Newspapers’ awards, announced on the same night.

To watch Frank at work was a thing to behold.

His tenacious interview-style would often bring the newsroom to a standstill.

One such time was in May this year when Frank was doing a phone interview with a Queenstown businessman who was, in Frank’s opinion, avoiding answering the question.

Frank’s voice became increasingly louder as he repeatedly demanded to know ‘‘what have you got to hide?’’.

Moments later from Frank: ‘‘Hello? Hello? Are you there?’’

There was silence from Frank’s corner for about a minute before he was back on the phone: ‘‘Yes, hello, Frank Marvin, Mountain Scene. I’d like to think we got disconnected and you didn’t hang up on me. If you would be so kind as to give me a call back . . . ’’

Within 10 minutes the phone call was returned.

A set of industrial-strength bright red earmuffs was a constant presence — either covering his ears, likely to drown out the cacophony from the newsroom, or hanging around his neck.

He was meticulous in everything he did, particularly when it came to researching a story. Frank was essentially the paper and town’s watchdog when it came to publicly-funded bodies.

Former editor Ryan Keen recalls Frank reading ‘‘every single scrap of paper and agenda’’ put out by councils and the health board.

He was also a ‘‘very good bush lawyer’’ when it came to media, Mr Keen said.

‘‘As former Mountain Scene defamation lawyer Peter McKnight once said to me: ‘Frank might not be able to stand up in court and officially present a case but he’s probably in the top five people in the country — and that includes defamation lawyers — in terms of understanding defamation risk’.

‘‘You learnt a lot from him just by being in his company — about professionalism, attitude, gumption and making sure you had fun along the way too and not taking yourself too seriously.

‘‘I remember asking him a few years ago what his plans were regarding his role at Mountain Scene and whether he planned to fully retire or stay on doing his two days. Naturally, I was hoping for the latter, and he said: ‘Mate, I’ll die in the chair.’

‘‘He just loved it,’’ Keen said.

Above all else, though, Frank was a good human being. He was the first to send a congratulatory email for a job well done, or to offer advice on a follow-up story.

Despite his own ill health, he was also the first to offer support and kind words to anyone else who needed it.

He was genuine and he was a gentleman without any form of ego — regardless of essentially being the paper’s godfather.

After Frank’s funeral, men spoke about being inspired by him to be better fathers, based on the touching tributes his children had paid.

Others, like me, were inspired to just be better people.

Frank Marvin was many things to many people, but to those lucky enough to know the man behind the byline he was, above anything else, a loyal, trusted, respected and cherished friend.

He is survived by his wife, Michiko, children Rod, Brent, Glenn, Laura and Francesca and 10 grandchildren.