Keon larger-than-life community man

A photo of Suzi and Barry Keon which ran in the Times with a feature article by former Times deputy editor Marianne Kelly marking the couple’s 50th wedding anniversary in 2010. Times file photo

Long-time former Manukau City Councillor Barry Keon, who with his wife Suzi raised their family in Beachlands for 35 years, has died.

Keon, referred to by his family as a larger-than-life character in the community, was a Manukau City councillor from 1989 to 2004. He passed away at the Howick Baptist Home on Friday, February 5.

A Times feature piece written in August 2010 by former Times journalist and deputy editor Marianne Kelly marking Keon and his wife’s golden wedding anniversary goes a little way to painting a very good picture,

Kelly writes: “For some councillors and community board members, he’s a pain in the butt for his “kick-ass” Aussie approach to getting things done, but his wife of 50 years loves him dearly.

“He’s wonderful,” says Suzi Keon of her husband Barry. “I hear him on the phone. Nobody gets things done like he does.”

The couple were celebrating their golden wedding anniversary (2010) in the midst of Keon putting his hat in the ring for a Pakuranga subdivision seat on the new Howick Local Board.

At the time it was close to five years since the couple had moved from their beloved Beachlands clifftop home to Half Moon Bay.

They quickly became involved in community affairs and were a force behind establishing Half Moon Bay Residents and Ratepayers Association which he chaired.

Keon and the ratepayer group were instrumental in the development of the Half Moon Bay to Bucklands Beach walkway.

Barry is a Sydneysider and Suzi is originally from Melbourne.

In 1968, Barry was seconded to New Zealand as sales and marketing manager for New Zealand and the Pacific for bio-pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers.

They settled in Beachlands and only go back to Australia for holidays.

They were only in New Zealand on transfer from Australia for two years, but loved it so much that Barry left his company and started five businesses in 1971.

He also dived into community affairs with the Beachlands Residents and Ratepayers Association and then served on Manukau City councillor for 15 years.

Sailing also became a passion for the Keons.

“The happiest day of my life was when our son traded a pony for a P-class,” said Keon, who became a volunteer skipper of New Zealand Maritime Museum’s scow Ted Ashby when he retired from the council.

In 1995, he and his 21.3m trimaran yacht Triptych hit the headlines when they sailed to Mururoa Atoll, France’s nuclear test site in the South Pacific, as part of a protest flotilla.

Kelly adds: “His cheeky Aussie ways got him into a brief fracas with armed French naval authorities when the yacht, with partying sailors from the rest of the flotilla on-board, “accidentally on purpose” floated into a no-go zone.”

Suzi, told the Times last week that Barry was a great grandpa and great-great grandpa.

“He was very proud of his family and his grandchildren particularly. He loved them dearly.”