Bruce O’Malley, one of Christchurch’s big men, RIP
One of Christchurch’s business “characters”, Bruce O’Malley, died this week of a heart attack aged 61.
Mr O’Malley was a big man physically and some felt intimidated in his presence.
In his younger and wilder days he was a founder member of a local motorcycle group.
He made his name in business in the construction world, reaching his zenith as project manager, which may not have been his exact title, on the PricewaterhouseCoopers Centre.
There was talk in business circles at the time that Mr O’Malley was the blue collar force behind completion of the tower as its developer went under. In his view, the suited men who took offices in the tower were happy to cut him loose when they’d dispensed with his services.
A few weeks ago he was spied watching one of the city’s big buildings come down and he reflected on how much of the city fabric he’d been involved with, one way or another.
In happier times he mixed with Rich Lister John Butterfield but always had a strong rivalry with Mr Butterfield’s business partner, Ian Mackenzie, which at least once involved a street altercation.
Others he mixed with included Buzz March of March Construction, and the coterie that surrounded the Butterfield lunch clique. He inevitably fell out with most of them, although they generally felt it wise to remain on polite terms.
Mr O’Malley was extremely well informed and liked to maintain contact with some media while expressing strong dislike for other more judgmental scribes.
Months or years could go by without hearing from Mr O’Malley and then he would ring out of the blue with his unmistakeable growl, “B E O’Malley here Sunshine, have your heard about...”
He was highly intelligent and capable of discourse on an amazing variety of topics from arts to sports, politics, law and business.
After completion of the PricewaterhouseCentre Mr O’Malley became involved in marketing the Gloucester Towers apartments along with his then business partner John Egden. But he wound up unsuccessfully defending himself against dole fraud.
A would-be apartment purchaser, Mr McKenzie, took the witness stand and described his Rolls Royce lifestyle and the two pet piranhas he kept in his office – “One was alive and one was dead,” according to Mr McKenzie.
Mr O'Malley ended up “doing porridge at Rock College” for a brief period, as he described it, and subsequently always took an interest when high profile businessmen followed the same path.
Over the next few years he remained involved in a series of business ventures or claims which were generally dead ends. One of them included a claim to the ill fated venture to the Auckland Islands seeking gold from the wreck of the General Grant, which sunk in the 1800s.
It came as a result of discussions about the venture at the conceptual stage when promoter Ashley Keith was his house guest a year earlier.
He even unsuccessfully - and in hindsight fortuitously - filed a High Court statement of claim but Mr Keith was out on the occasions a bailiff tried to serve it.
In 1994 Mr O’Malley used skills as his own defence lawyer when defending himself in the Christchurch district court against charges of assault on real estate agents Terry Buxton and George Rawstron at wine bar Espresso 124.
In court Mr O'Malley referred Judge Stephen Erber to a specialist tome on law often cited by lawyers that he had borrowed from the Crown prosecutor "... written by a man called Adams, Sir."
Judge Erber showed immediate interest and said " Oh yes, I'm familiar with that. Actually it wasn't written by a man called Adams. I wrote some of it."
Mr O'Malley said that in the unlikely event a jury didn't believe his not-guilty plea he intended to cite section 347 of Adams on Criminal Law which described how there may be no case to answer if there is an element of consent.
He went on to argue that Mr Buxton had dropped his arms and said words to the effect "Well, go ahead and punch me then."
This was, argued Mr O'Malley, an admission of consent on the part of Mr Buxton.
Judge Erber replied that while Mr O'Malley had a point in that Mr Buxton might have been giving consent in order to gain more ammunition for his feud with Mr O'Malley, it could also be argued Mr Buxton knew what was coming and just wanted to get it over with and therefore the matter should be dealt with by a jury.
The court also heard from various witnesses about another altercation at Christchurch's exclusive The Club nightspot where Mr O'Malley's ire had been raised by a comment from one of the men that The Club couldn't be all that exclusive because Bruce O'Malley was there.
Messrs Buxton and Rawstron alleged Mr O'Malley had pulled down Mr Rawstron's head by grabbing his tie before flicking him with a back-handed uppercut and that he had kicked Mr Buxton in the back of the leg.
Mr O'Malley produced witnesses who gave contradictory accounts of what happened, the exact spot where Mr Buxton was allegedly kicked, and the state of intoxication of the real estate agents. The Club proprietor said all he saw was Mr O'Malley possibly stamping his foot in anger or frustration.
The judge and jury appeared to contain their mirth at some points in the two-day trial, and in the end found Mr O'Malley not guilty.
Over subsequent years Mr O’Malley’s fortunes and prominence waned and there was generally a dispute swirling in the background.
More recently, he became involved in business again with his nephew, Curtis, and found a new lease on life helping with the demolition and rebuild of Christchurch.
It’s a fair bet that given half a chance he would have found a new niche somehow in the resurgence of the city that was his home.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret, and two daughters, one of whom became a successful lawyer.