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Icon of the West – Jack Christie MBE

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JackAs we acknowledge in each month’s Icons, West Auckland has produced, or influenced, the lives of some extraordinary achievers, including the late Jack Christie MBE who passed away in early March.

Described at his funeral by Ray Burgess, Chairman of the Ulrich Aluminium Group, as one of the great “Captains of New Zealand Industry”, Jack Christie created TISCO that was literally a household word in New Zealand living rooms for years. He then went on to become chairman of Ulrich Aluminium for 15 years during which time the company grew from having 26 branches to 46 employing 600 people in Australia and New Zealand.

Jack Christie was also “the top man” in New Zealand motor racing for many years, a leader in a wide range of industry and amateur sporting organisations and one of the country’s leading Freemasons.

Born in Wellington in 1924, Jack grew up in New Lynn, attending New Lynn West Primary School and later Mt Albert Grammar where he held the school’s record for the mile race until “a fella called Snell came along and broke it.”

He joined the RNZAF during World War II, serving as a pilot. While training at the Empire Flying School at Edmonton, Canada, he came second in the Canadian mile race. Athletics was to remain an important part of his life ever after.

After the war he plunged into the burgeoning world of radio, setting up the Atomic Radio Company on Karangahape Road and it was here his steely and innovative edge in business first became famous.

In those days people played records on gramophones, usually a large item of living room furniture that incorporated both a radio and a record player in a cabinet that also had a cupboard to keep records in. It made sense to Jack to import and sell records that people would play on the gramophones. This worked well until a leading record company threatened to sue him for what we would now call “parallel importing”. Jack promptly gave his records away as a sweetener on every gramophone sale. Being Jack however, it was a safe bet he wasn’t losing money on this.

With the advent of television, Jack worked in co-operation with several large companies to create TISCO. TISCO was used by the retailers selling TV sets, to install and tune televisions in the buyer’s home. TISCO also sold service contracts, a form of insurance that meant if your set broke down, TISCO would fix it.

At one time, every single TV set in New Zealand was installed by the company and with the company’s label somewhere on the set giving the local TISCO branch telephone number. TISCO was literally a household name.

After retiring, Jack Christie was recruited to be chairman of Ulrich Aluminium which he led to Australasian success.

Jack also imported Vespa motor-scooters and set up the Vespa Riders Club; he was president of the New Zealand Manufacturers’ Federation (among other industry positions). He was vice president of the Mt Roskill Swimming Club and a founder of the Cameron Pool. A midget car racer at Western Springs, he also held increasingly important positions in the New Zealand Grand Prix. During the era when the best Formula 1 drivers came here for the Tasman Series, he was Clerk of the Course, the man in charge for the Tasman series races in New Zealand including the New Zealand Grand Prix itself. He went on to be first president and later a life member, of the New Zealand Grand Prix and his MBE was given partly in recognition of his services to motor sport.

Although he had long since lived away from West Auckland, Jack Christie gave 68 years of service to the Titirangi Lodge after being initiated into Freemasonry there in 1946. As a Freemason he was as tireless and effective as he was in business, being a member of many lodges and helping to found several, including Lodge Te Atatu. He rose to the rank of Provincial Grand Master in 1972 and ultimately to be a Past Deputy Grand Master for New Zealand. He also achieved one of the rarest Freemasonic distinctions, the rank of 33rd degree. This is granted by a “side order” called the Rose Croix. It almost goes without saying that Jack Christie reached the top of this order too, achieving the rank of Sovereign Grand Commander General.

He died on 4 March, 16 weeks short of his 90th birthday. As someone said at his funeral, “where did he get the time to do all that?” Another replied; “and be a bloody decent guy as well.”