Leigh Sawmill Cafe founder Grattan Guinness was remembered at a service on Monday, March 12, as a man who delighted in being different and could sometimes be “over the top”, but who was above all a family man.
Despite heavy rain, hundreds of people crowded into the Sawmill to attend the service led by Bishop John Bluck, who described Grattan as a generous man shaped by his faith.
“He delighted in reading the Bible and, not surprisingly, liked the rebels and outsiders the best,” Bishop Bluck said.
The service included tributes from a number of his grandchildren, who read stories and poems, and sang songs in their grandfather’s honour.
Former Kaipara Hills neighbour Peter Lange and his family gave a rendition of an original song penned to mark the opening of Grattan’s shearing shed many years ago. Written to the tune of Charlotte the Harlot, the song captured some of Grattan’s cheeky charm.
Born in Geraldine during World War II, Grattan spent his early years in the Timaru district. His grandfather was Edwin Guinness, a founder of Pyne Gould Guinness Ltd (now PGG Wrightson) and Mayor of Timaru for a while.
Grattan was nine when his father died, prompting his mother to move the family to England. He spent eight years at school there, first in Berkshire and then at a public school in Dorset.
However, a hankering for a farming life brought him back to Timaru when he was 20. He bought 51-hectares at Temuka, where he grew wheat and barley, and ran some sheep for 18 months, before selling the bulk of the farm to buy a property in the Kaipara Hills. At one stage he was running 3000 sheep and 200 to 300 cattle there.
The family’s first foray into the hospitality industry was after they moved to Auckland. Grattan had married Marguerite by this time and together they had four children – Nicola, Annabelle, Edward and Benjamin.
Three of the children were working either full-time or part-time at Oblio’s Restaurant in Ponsonby, where they gained experience in the hospitality industry. Grattan recounted in an interview with
Mahurangi Matters in 2006 that he bought the restaurant to invest in his children’s future. Although they eventually sold the restaurant, it sowed the seed that they might like to set up a family-run business.
The family lived at Mathesons Bay for many years. When they spotted a For Sale sign on the former Leigh sawmill in 1994 they wasted no time in putting in a bid.
Over the years, the former industrial site has been transformed into an iconic dining and entertainment destination, attracting national and international acts.
Among its many attractions is an old Bechstein grand piano, lovingly restored to mint condition by Grattan. The nearly three-hectare site also includes a dive shop, motorcycle workshop and accommodation.
Grattan built a house at Goat Island where he spent the last years of his life. The beach, which would eventually claim Grattan’s life, was described as one of his favourite places, where he, his donkey Chico and dog Sam would often run the gauntlet of the local ranger.