Real Life

Sir Bob Harvey: 'My search for Mum and Dad'

The larger-than-life former Waitakere mayor talks about his adoption adventure.

By Alice O'Connell
Sir Bob Harvey is, at heart, an adventurer. The former Waitakere City mayor has a thousand tales to tell, from his infamous hair-raising swims across the Dardanelles to his multi-faceted career, stretching from advertising to politics.
“A life needs adventures,” he says with a chuckle. “And I’ve certainly had a few.”
One of Bob’s greatest adventures was one that sent him in search of his birth parents, after he suspected that he may have been adopted.
It was an unusual situation in which to find himself, but not an entirely unfamiliar one, as Bob (now 73) had himself adopted out a child as a young man. He had also, years later, adopted a daughter with his wife Barbara.
He is very close to Dinah, his birth daughter, who was adopted out to a British family. Dinah tracked down her father in 1992, much to Bob’s delight as his own search for her had been fruitless. “Finding her completed a part of my life,” he says. “Her son, my grandson, is now 18 years old, 2 metres tall and has a rowing scholarship to Oxford!”
Bob and Barbara, a midwife, adopted their daughter, Tessa, during the 1970s, adding to their brood of four. But Bob’s adoption circle was complete when at 50, he started investigating the gut feeling that he may have been adopted himself.
Bob first found his birth mother, Margaret, who was not forthcoming in sharing the identity of his father. But she did let slip a piece of information that led him to Kiwi cricketer William “Sixer” Brice and his son Jim. Bob thought Jim might be his uncle, so under the pretext that he was writing an article, he organised a meeting with Jim and his wife Joyce.
The three got on like a house on fire. But during their discussion, Bob realised Jim was in fact his birth father – information he kept to himself, continuing to meet up with Jim as a friend, until finally revealing his suspicions to Joyce. She was, quite rightly, stunned and hurt, but Jim was happy to bring Bob into the family, introducing him to his half-sister.
“I’m very lucky,” grins Bob. “And what is most important is that it all turned out great.”
While he’s hugely proud of his large family, Bob’s tried hard to keep his family out of the spotlight during his career, “because I’ve seen a lot of political lives burned by dragging in families,” he says.
It is his wife of 43 years, Barbara, whom he credits with keeping him grounded and providing “a loving, funny and supportive partnership away from the spotlight”.
And in his 70s, Bob is still fighting fit and continues working his day job as the chairman of Waterfront Auckland. “I wouldn’t even think about retiring! It’s a terrific job, it’s a very challenging job, but it’s at the centre of the whole city in terms of development. I’m right where I want to be!”
Wild Westie by Hazel Phillips, Penguin Group, $38.

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