If you’re driving around Apia gazing at the many, multi-storeyed government and company buildings, chances are you’re looking at some of the work of well-known, local identity, Robert (Bob) Arthur Garner.
Bob, at the great old age of 86, died peacefully in the home he built in Ululoloa, on Thursday morning after years of hard work.
Over the 43 years - half of his lifetime, during which the New Zealand-born builder made Samoa his home with his wife Mele, many of these substantial, buildings which make an imprint on the skyline, were supervised by this man.
Born in Motueka, New Zealand, Bob first came to Samoa as an Aid Adviser for the New Zealand High Commission in 1974.
He met Mele in 1977 when they were both working at the Tokelau Affairs and the couple married two years later.
In the early 1980’s the couple moved to Tonga – the day before the P.S.C. strike, Mele remembered, and they were there for just over two years overseeing buildings funded by New Zealand including rebuilding homes for after a cyclone.
On their return to Samoa, Bob oversaw the building of the N.Z.-funded student hostel at the University of the South Pacific, Alafua.
“In 1987, he called it quits and worked for a time with George Meredith before he started up his own business, R and M Company,” said Mele.
Recalling his body of work, “It’s easier to start from one end of town,” she said.
“There’s the Samoa Ports Authority building; the Customs and Quarantine buildings; Pacific Forum Line across the road then heading into town, the Central Bank of Samoa, the multi-storeyed Accident Compensation Corporation headquarters; the National Provident Fund Plaza, the Samoa Land Corporation Hotel at Malifa and the Bluesky building at Maluafou.”
He also supervised a lot of church buildings as the Clerk of Works for the Latter Day Saints church.
Small in stature, but huge on work ethics, Bob could be described as feisty, with exacting standards and woe betide anybody who wanted to take shortcuts.
Even after his health deteriorated following a bad fall from a ladder seven years ago and subsequent hip operations which slowed him down a little, he was still in great demand because of that uncompromising insistence on quality.
In fact one of his projects just a few years ago, was checking the quality of the concrete at Apia Concrete Products.
“He was very dedicated to his work,” said Mele, in something of an understatement.
And although in his later years, he could no longer play golf or indulge in his love of ballroom dancing as he had earlier in his life, he continued his love of reading and still took a keen interest in local affairs through daily reading of the ‘Samoa Observer’.
To Bob, work, and working hard was what you did but there was another side to him too - one known and enjoyed by the couple’s friends and loved by members of his Samoan family.
He had a great sense of humour couched at times by his blunt words – “a warped sense of humour”, Mele corrected.
“He enjoyed living in Samoa and enjoyed the Samoan culture.”
“When I would tell him we had a fa’alavelave, he had two Samoan words he had memorised and would ask me, “So is it a si’i or an asiga?
“The words a si’i would be followed by a frown, and an asiga, a smile.”
Bob could also be blunt and uncompromising, once he got an idea – never backing down and refusing to accept what he considered to be excuses.
Mele recalled a conversation Bob had with their friend Sefo Pa’u, the owner of Sefo’s Funeral Services, which best illustrates this
Apparently he had wanted Sefo to start up a crematorium a long time ago.
“I haven’t got the money”, Sefo would tell him.
Bob would then say, “Well go and get a loan.”
“But I can’t afford the payments to repay the loan,” Sefo would argue.
“Well then you need to work a bit harder,” Bob would retort, determined to have the last word.
Fittingly, and in accordance with his wishes, Bob’s funeral service will take place today, at the Samoa Memorial Garden Crematorium at Tafaigata.