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.

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