In terms of his infectious personality and major contributions to the community, especially the Cure Kids charity, Wayne Cafe, who died on May 5, created a lasting impact in Queenstown, and beyond. PHILIP CHANDLER speaks to those close to him about his life and times

A big-hearted community and family man, passionate skier, long-time realtor, and fun-loving character, the legacy of Queenstowner Wayne Cafe is surely the success of child health research charity, Cure Kids.

Wayne, who died this month at 69, was the driving force behind a local ski endurance race which helped transform the former Child Health Research Foundation (CHRF) into a leading charity and funded a chair at Otago University.

One of six siblings, Wayne was raised in ‘‘a lovely family of very funny, entertaining people’’ in Sydney, his wife Carrie says.

After leaving school he trained as an electrician and worked at Southland’s Tiwai aluminium smelter.

While there, a friend introduced him to skiing on Coronet, which ultimately led to a move to Queenstown.

When he went for his ski instructor’s certificate, his examiner, Fraser Skinner, initially failed him — ‘‘his skiing wasn’t up to scratch, we had to deconstruct a bit of his surfing technique’’ — but once he passed in 1977 ‘‘he became an excellent instructor and showed a lot of empathy’’.

Wayne then did back-to-back seasons including seven in the United States, mainly in Taos, New Mexico.

Through Coronet he met Carrie — they married in 1986, son Tim followed in ’87 and Annie in ’89.

After Carrie got an admin job with First National’s Bob Robertson, the latter persuaded Wayne to get into real estate, leading to a successful career which included owning Ray White’s Frankton office then joining Bayleys Arrowtown.

Tim recalls lean times — ‘‘Dad was particularly good at helping people through the tough times’’.

In the ’90s, after Queenstown adopted Aspen as a sister city, Wayne helped two local ski racers compete in the US resort’s famous charity-driven 24 Hours of Aspen.

Wayne, with Skinner and the late Jeff Turner, convinced the organisers to allow them to set up a Queenstown version, 50K of Coronet, which first ran in 2000 with teams from around the world.

With support from former advertising exec Kaye Parker, they decided their charity should be CHRF, which Parker’s husband Michael renamed the more catchy Cure Kids.

Skinner says Wayne, with his ‘‘enthusiasm and stickability’’, was undoubtedly the event’s main driver.

Through five editions, the event raised $1 million for Cure Kids to set up a permanent professorial chair of paediatric genetics, at Otago Uni, and it also ‘‘catapulted’’ the charity into the future, Wayne later said.

‘‘He literally spent half his life during those years organising 50K,’’ ski buddy Rick Pettit says.

Wayne also hugely supported Tim’s ski racing career, culminating in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics — Tim nowadays coaches local ski racing star Alice Robinson, whom he first coached when she was nine.

Vale: The late Wayne Cafe

Wayne was also a long-time Whakatipu Ski Club president and a Queenstown Alpine Ski Team and Snow Sports NZ board member.

He was behind a group who took over Coronet’s former Otago Uni ski hut, renaming it Gobbler’s Lodge as ‘‘we were a bunch of old ski turkeys’’.

Pettit says he and his wife Gayle and Wayne and Carrie enjoyed many overseas holidays.

‘‘He was always such a character, in Ireland Gayle and Wayne did a NZ rendition of the Riverdance in a pub in Kilkenny which had the locals give them a standing ovation.’’

In the late ’90s, he and Wayne won seats on the first direct flight to Sydney after designing a costume mimicking the Sydney Harbour Bridge — ‘‘honestly, it was the funniest 36 hours I think I’ve spent in my whole life’’.

Wayne was a keen golfer, too, while he used his auctioneering skills to help many causes.

He was also a brilliant contributor to the Wakatipu High board of trustees, focusing on building and infrastructure development.

After his cancer diagnosis, he invited Pettit to join him on a ski trip to the US.

‘‘It’s extraordinary, just over 12 months ago we were skiing flat-stick for 16 days in the States,’’ Pettit says.

He notes his friend was ‘‘highly organised, highly motivated and, probably the thing I think most of him, he was a fantastic communicator, he stayed in touch with people right throughout his life’’.

Parker says Wayne was ‘‘one of the most positive men I know, and when he knew [things] weren’t going to get any better, he just lived his last, best life, he was amazing’’.

‘‘I think we’ll all just have amazing fond memories, you think about him and you smile.’’

A memorial service for Wayne takes place at Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall at 2.30pm today.

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