Chris O'Connell, my friend and one-time business partner - passed away in Wellington this past weekend. Chris had endured a series of debilitating health issues for several years. Nonetheless he was at the WISPA 2-day meeting in Wellington just 2 weeks ago, but his health took a big downturn in recent days.
I first met Chris when he spoke about digital issues at a Marketing Association event in Auckland in the mid 2000s. His background was in marketing and at that time he was running a marketing agency but with a strong interest in, and curiosity about all things digital. One thing led to another and I persuaded him to join the TUANZ Board, where he remained for over ten years including stints as Chair and acting CEO. Throughout that time and since Chris was a passionate rural broadband warrior, coordinating broadband initiatives in his home Marlborough and other parts of rural NZ.
Then for several years from 2012 Chris and I worked together, initially within a consultancy he shared with a third party, and then as business partners in HCT - Heartland Connectivity Taskforce or "Here Comes Trouble" - take your pick. Our achievements together were the successful campaign for "deemed access" for fibre over power poles, and a major conference in Whangarei about 3 years ago. After that we worked with Matthew Harrison, who had been trying for years to get WISPA.NZ across the line, and supported him to get it firmly established as a very functional and effective group.
More recently Chris's skills were recognised with his appointment as a member of the Dedimag - Digital Economy and Digital Inclusion Ministerial Advisory Group - by the Minister of Communications.
Chris was a visionary with a huge ability to think through complex issues and draw conclusions which were almost always accurate - helped by his early career in military intelligence. Many people have spoken of his generous advice and counsel which was always given willingly and constructively and, more often than not, freely. Road trips with Chris - and I was privileged to enjoy many - were always stimulating, challenging and fun. He was unique.
Chris leaves his partner Liz and two teenage boys who he was immensely proud of. My heartfelt sympathies go to them all. RIP.