Gone far too soon: The late Graham Budd who died last Friday, aged 62


I lost a great friend last week, and so did Queenstown.

Graham Budd’s sudden death last Friday, apparently from a heart attack, aged 62, has sent shockwaves through the resort.

Graham left Destination Queenstown just over two years ago to run Invercargill-based economic development agency, Great South.

I used to kid him about his timing, leaving tourism just before Covid decimated it.

However, right to the end he continued to care deeply about DQ, the team he’d led and the town in general.

In recent times we’d even renewed our Monday night Brazz catchups, as during this  current Covid wave he’d mostly been working from his Arthurs Point pad.

On the day he died he’d been paddleboarding on Frankton Arm and was walking a trail above Arrowtown on a gorgeous autumn’s day when he suddenly collapsed.

Perhaps his devotion to Queenstown isn’t surprising given he had a family connection to West Otago going back to 1865.

He’d been brought up in Wellington, winning spurs as a talented footballer, but moved to Queenstown 15 years ago to become DQ’s marketing manager.

We were probably lucky he stayed because he was twice overlooked for the top job,  before taking the reins in 2012.

He showed equal persistence in the CEO’s job, especially in get ting approval for an  extra $900,000 in funding after sufficient DQ members turned down an earlier proposal.

Graham was an early advocate for a visitor levy, despite opposition from some  accommodation operators, and that would probably have been in place by now but for a pesky virus.

He oversaw Queenstown’s adoption of a second sister city, Hangzhou, in China, but not before shoring up our links with our first sister city, Aspen, in the United States.

As much as regenerative tourism’s today’s buzz word, he was invited to speak on that topic at a gathering in the US while still with DQ.

He also negotiated a deal to house DQ in decent premises without breaking the bank.

Perhaps his greatest skill was winning the respect of his various boards, many staff and most of his stakeholding business community, which you could put down to his calm demeanour, intellect and leadership ability.

In his exit interview, though, he didn’t hold back in slamming some critics for being  ‘‘unduly negative, not constructive’’, and for carping despite having person ally benefited from the town’s growth they were criticising.

At DQ forums, he was renowned for all his statistical charts, which marketing & comms
director Sarah O’Donnell ribbed him about at his farewell.

A friend who once thought he was a bit dry changed her mind after his witty MC’s performance at a Winter Festival business luncheon.

Speaking of which, Graham also presided over the festival’s downsizing and the loss of the drag race in which he’d made the odd hilarious appearance.

On a personal level, he was known as a fastidious DIY’er and had a hand in designing  both his and his son Jono’s local homes.

He also revelled in the rural sector, which his last job embraced, as well as an earlier  career move.

He was a keen traveller, too, taking after his dad — a highlight was touring NASA’s  space HQ in the US on the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing.

A bonus of his Great South job was its involvement in space operations.

Beyond that, he was a proud father of Justine, Jono, Georgia and Sasha, and was so looking forward to Justine’s wedding next February.

For me, Monday nights at Brazz aren’t going to be the same.

Vale, GBudd, we will miss you so.

●  A service for Graham takes place at Lake Hayes Pavilion this Saturday at 1.30pm.