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By JOHN ROSS
Dick Smith was a man almost everyone in the tourism industry in Fiji knew and respected. On Sunday, on his beloved Musket Cove, Dick passed away.
He was surrounded by his family and staff who had been with him for many years.
It is a sad time at Musket Cove and a sad time for Fiji.
Last Thursday Dick had his beloved antique British Racing Green MG taken out of the garage and he drove himself around the island, visiting all the staff. It was a special day.
Dick sailed into Fiji on his yacht and immediately loved the place. More importantly, he saw the immense tourism possibilities that Fiji presented.
Dick started a day trip service using the yacht, which he initially ran himself. Rosie Whitton remembers Dick and Danny Costello standing in her office in the airport and asking if anyone off the flight had booked their resort or a trip on their boats.
From time to time Dick also borrowed money to pay for the barbeque steaks on the boat.
Dick had a vision about Fiji tourism and he continued that until today.
Dick and his wife Carol pioneered outer island resorts when they built Castaway Island Resort, which they subsequently sold.
In the late 1960s, with Regge Raffe and Sir Ian McFarlane, he bought a share of Malolo Lailai Island in the Mamanucas.
In early 1970 the three went their own separate ways.
Plantation had opened in 1969 with five bures and the airstrip had been built on land that separated Dick’s property from Plantation.
On 3 October 1976, Dick started to build a resort on his part of the island, the name of which had been changed to Leeward Island. Dick thought that it had a more alluring tone for tourists (he was later to see that the Fijian name was better).
The resort was named Dick’s Place and provided twelve bures and a dining and recreational building.
In 2000 Sir Ian sold his share of the island, the land to the north of the airstrip and it was snapped up by Dick.
Over the years the resort continued to expand because Dick was an addicted builder, to the point where it now has 55 bures and villas, a number of private homes, a purpose built Spa, several bars and restaurants, a general store, an extensive marina, two pools and a number of over-water bures.
He also dug a canal and created an island inland as a separate section of the resort. Now called Musket Cove, it is proudly Fijian owned by the Smith Family and employs a large and loyal staff.
Several years ago effective management of the property was passed to Dick’s daughter, Josephine, and her husband, but Dick always stayed very close to the operation.
I first met Dick through yachting.
Dick had been a sailor all his life and loved boats and the sea.
He turned Musket Cove into a safe marina, famous around the world.
Dick started a Yacht Club on Musket Cove which now has over 10,000 members worldwide.
Many famous yacht names are carved in the beams of the dining room and club house.
Dick was the prime mover in the creation of the President’s Cup yacht race.
Around 1992 over a drink or two, a remark was made by various New Zealand yachting personalities on how it would be great to have a real Yacht Racing Series in Fiji, similar to the famous Kenwood Cup in Hawaii.
A year or so later Don Galbraith, Jim Davern, Jack Hargraves and Dick Smith were at it again.
Later on Jim Davern, entertaining Andrew Thomson on his powerboat in Auckland, raised the subject again.
In August of 1996, Martin Daverniza, of Tabua Investment, the developer of Denarau Island, asked Dick Smith to come and see him to discuss what they could do to develop a greater yachting presence at Port Denarau.
Dick told him about the idea of a serious Yacht Racing Series to be held in the area, hosted or based at Port Denarau and he was very supportive.
In fact, much of the funding for the President’s Cup events was provided by Martin either as cash or in kind.
The first races were run in Nadi Bay in 1995 and it has continued at various Fiji locations.
This starts with a regatta week at Musket Cove, a week of fun, food and sailing and draws many international and local entries. This is still run every year.
Dick was one of the pillars of Fiji Tourism.
He developed a close friendship with Danny Costello, who built and ran the famous Beachcomber resort.
Danny and Dick started to travel the world promoting both their own resorts and Fiji as a world class destination.
Initially they did these trips on a (shoestring, sharing all the expenses and often sharing a hotel room.
Danny was in incurable joker and Dick usually ended up on the receiving end.
But Dick could fight back. On one trip in Australia they arrived at the Hilton in the same car.
Danny bullied Dick into making the arrangements so Dick went in and registered, but he led the hotel to believe that Danny was a Prime Minister of a rich Arab country.
They treated Danny royally and he didn’t know why till later. But he always got back at his tormentor.
Dick was a giant in the industry. He was a founder of the Fiji Hotel and Tourism Association (he was appointed a Life Member), a founder of the Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards, he was an Fiji Visitors Bureau Board member and was instrumental in the growth of many other initiatives.
He was a mentor to many people.
Tony Whitton remembers Dick as a valuable mentor when the Rosie Group were starting to build the resorts in the Mamaucas, particularly Likuliku and says that his constant help was always available and always constructive.
He was an important source of advice on matters to do with the landowners and the vanua.
Dick was always close to the Whitton family, and although ill and in hospital in Sydney when Tony’s dad, Roy, died he phoned to talk to them.
Tony says “The thing that most impresses me is that Dick almost has a self-sustaining nation out there.
“In agriculture they grow all sorts almost everything they need, including a range of tropical fruit and vegetables. They build their own ferries and service and fly their own plane; they do all the building, design everything and are innovative in the product”.
Dick will be sadly missed by all of us who knew him. And the Angels will have to put up with the noise and practical jokes when Danny finds out Dick is there.