Robert Oatley AO was many things to many people, but particularly in the Whitsundays he was a boss, a mentor and a friend.
His death on Sunday morning following a protracted illness was met with shock from around the region, for although the 87-year-old was approaching his “twilight” years, no-one could really comprehend that he had gone.
Glenn Bourke, CEO of the Oatley-owned Hamilton Island, looked back with fondness on a relationship that spanned almost 30 years.
It was thanks to Mr Oatley’s patronage that Mr Bourke, already a competent sailor, was able to compete internationally culminating in the Olympics of 1992.
“And then we became friends and that friendship lasted to this day,” Mr Bourke said.
Mr Bourke remembers the moment Mr Oatley approached him about taking the reins at Hamilton Island.
“He said, ‘look, we have this island, we need a representative we can trust to help us run it – we have big plans and ambitions – would you be a part of that’,” he said.
“And what an incredible vision he had.”
Despite his many achievements on the island, in the wine industry and in the world of sailing, Mr Bourke described “Bob” as a self-made modest man, who didn’t need accolades.
“He sold coffee and cocoa when everyone in Australia was drinking tea, he grew Rosemount wines when people in Australia were drinking beer and the third stroke of genius was Hamilton Island,” he said.
“He injected the energy, the time, the capital and the vision to create something sustainable and now internationally recognised.
“He was a visionary, a wonderful philanthropist to Australian sailors and he made the largest contribution to the best era Australian sailing has ever seen.”
The owner of maxi yacht Wild Oats X and super-maxi Wild Oats XI, Bob Oatley and his skipper Mark Richards were certainly a force to be reckoned with and in 2013 the Oatleys even made a bid for the America’s Cup.
Sailing author and friend of more than 45 years, Rob Mundle, said, “Bob stood high among the most inspiring men anyone could want to know: a self-made individual who shared the good times with family and friends”.
In a statement released on behalf of the Oatleys, the family said they had been “touched by the many kind words and tributes that have already been received from friends, colleagues and the wider Australian community”.
Mr Oatley, the 34th most wealthy man in Australia according to the 2015 BRW Rich List, bought Hamilton Island for a reported $200 million in 2003.
In January 2014, he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for his distinguished service to the Australian wine and tourism industries, to the sport of yacht racing and to the community, as a supporter of medical research and visual arts organisations – an appointment he described himself as “extremely humbled” by.
He is survived by his wife Valerie, his three children, Sandy, Ian and Ros Oatley, seven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.
Mr Bourke said he fully expected the next generation of Oatleys to continue their father’s vision.
“And while there is a sense of sadness here we know he lived his life to the fullest and that he changed many lives – and we thank him for that,” he said.