A champion for arts and culture
Robert (Bob) Raymond Cater, QSM: b Johnsonville, March 7, 1937; mRuth Cater (nee Armour, dec); d Wellington, September 24, 2017, aged 80.
Bob Cater was born in Johnsonville in 1937. His dad left to fight in World War II in North Africa soon after, leaving the boy and his mother to live with her parents in Timaru.
Cater heard a lot of music at his grandparents’ house. His mother’s family, the Rolands, had studied music in Europe, but returned to escape the war. Cater’s grandfather was of Hungarian-Jewish descent, and he later learned that none of his family who stayed in Europe survived.
The young Roland family toured the country for two years performing as a sextet. They eventually settled in Auckland, where Bob grew up. He went on to win a singing competition at Sacred Heart School, a competition later won by Tim and Neil Finn and Dave Dobbyn.
His first theatrical role was as the leading lady Yum Yum in The Mikado, then Nancy in ThePirates of Penzance. But his voice broke so he turned his deep, booming voice to theatrical roles.
At university he majored first in economics, then anthropology. He worked as an archaeologist and this led to a scholarship for postgraduate study at Cambridge University in England.
In 1960, he was part of a protest against an All Black tour to apartheid South Africa under the banner ‘‘No Maoris, No Tour’’. At his funeral his daughter, Kaaryn Cater, said Cater led the last protest at the airport as the All Blacks departed.
‘‘They lay down in front of the plane to prevent its departure, and he and three others wound up in court over this. They received suspended sentences.’’
He met his future wife, Ruth, during a university production of Hamlet. They married and in 1963, he was transferred for work and was offered a house at Titahi Bay or Miramar. Ruth picked the bay because she loved the beach.
She gained a Bachelor of Arts using notes supplied by Bob, who went to the lectures for her while she was home with small children.
Starting in 1967, Cater was involved in close to 50 productions with the Porirua Little Theatre, and held every office on the committee.
Kaaryn Cater said the two major foundations in her father’s life were family and his deep Catholic faith. His four children, 14 grandchildren and six greatgrandchildren were all a part of his final Requiem mass.
‘‘Our parents gifted us a wonderful childhood full of adventure, exploration, art, theatre, music and culture. At the time, we were sure we spent every holiday travelling around New Zealand visiting Ma¯ori meeting houses – though dad tells us it was only one holiday.
‘‘Four children, one 1953 Vauxhall Velux, mumdriving, dad flooding the car with billows of pipe smoke, quizzes designed by dad, reciting the whole Fiddler on the Roof several times in a row.’’
In 1963, on his arrival in Wellington, Bob worked for Unesco, then the State Services Commission and the Department of Internal Affairs. He managed Waitangi Day events at Waitangi, including New Zealand Day in 1974, which was attended by the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Princess Anne.
Cater once told a Radio NZ interviewer that the beauty of Waitangi Day was it was so uniquely New Zealand. ‘‘We can’t escape our history,’’ he said. ‘‘We make Waitangi Day our national day. I don’t think these things are mutually exclusive.
‘‘The concept of Waitangi really was that the chiefs of the time said, ‘Hey, we have room here for other people and we’re willing to share it.’
‘‘It’s still there. It just tends to get hidden behind a few other things sometimes.’’
Cater was made executive director of the New Zealand 1990 Commission, tasked with organising the official celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Waitangi. He was instrumental in the management of Te Ma¯ori Exhibition, which toured the United States and New Zealand.
He became Deputy Secretary at Internal Affairs, and later head of the School of Arts at Whitireia New Zealand until retiring from fulltime work in 2002.
One honour he was especially proud of was to be the first Pa¯keha¯ man to be made an honorary member of the Maori Women’s Welfare League.
Cater spearheaded the creation of Porirua’s first Festival of the Elements, held on the grass at Aotea Lagoon in 1992. The festival, driven by the Porirua Community Arts Council – which he had helped to found – became the biggest Waitangi Day celebration outside Waitangi.
In 2012, Cater was awarded a Queen’s Service Medal for services to the community and the arts.
Cater co-founded Page 90, which became Porirua’s Pataka Art + Museum, and the Porirua Historical Association. At 78, he received a scholarship from Yale University to work on a historical PhD about 1820s to 1830s AfricanAmericans who travelled to New Zealand on whaling ships. He was completing the thesis when he became ill.
‘‘In recent times, while dad was ill, he said that one of the advantages of knowing that life was ending was that it allowed him to make his peace with everyone,’’ Kaaryn Cater said at his funeral.
‘‘Those of us who know him well were a little surprised by this comment and he was asked, ‘is there anyone you need to make your peace with Dad?’
‘‘He gave a little chuckle and said, ‘No, not really’.’’
Sources: Cater family, Jude Pointon, Kapi-Mana News, The Dominion Post, Radio NZ.
‘‘The concept of Waitangi really was that the chiefs of the time said, Hey, we have room here for other people and we're willing to share it.’’
Bob Cater outside the former home of the Porirua Little Theatre at Titahi Bay. Cater was a strong advocate for restoring the former 1942 US Marines Hall.