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Happy place . . . Richard Umbers with some of his work at his Oamaru home. PHOTO: DANIEL BIRCHFIELD

As long as Richard Umbers has his plants and his art, he is a happy man.

Originally from Alexandra, he moved to Oamaru with wife Louise about 18 months ago and set up a small business, Hebes Natives, which supplies plants including flax and hebes to farmers, landscape artists and other organisations working on riparian planting projects.

Mr Umbers came to Oamaru after spending the bulk of his life in the North Island, where he worked as an English, art and social studies teacher at several schools before lecturing in art at the Manukau Institute of Technology.

Before that, he owned a block of land in northern Waikato, where he ran an avocado orchard and grew flowers for the cut flower market.

Mr Umbers said his decision to come to Oamaru was a relatively easy one.

“I moved here because it’s Otago. I belong here. It’s a nice place, it’s got lots and lots of stuff to recommend it.

“We’re really lucky. I like the small place that I live. The historic buildings draw you in and the more you know about them, the more you care about them.”

Soon after he arrived in Oamaru, he worked as a relief teacher at Waitaki Boys’ High School.

While his plant business was going well, it was not what he planned to do initially.

“We were going to something really cool down at the railway station. We were going to have something called Platform Delicatessen, a high-class deli with wines and so on.

“But let’s just say a combination of factors mitigated that from coming to fruition. I had the money and everything set up ready to go.”

While disappointed the business venture did not eventuate, Mr Umbers was content because it gave him time to pursue one of his favourite pastimes – art.

A graduate of the former Auckland Society of Arts art school, his garage is full of paintings he has worked on over the years.

He said the technical term for his style was “abstract expressionism”.

“It goes a bit wider than that. It’s pretty deep in terms of what I’m trying to get out there. With art, it’s just like anything – if it’s your calling, it’s your calling.

“It doesn’t matter whether I sell them or not. I don’t have an agenda to make a lot of money out of it, but they are for sale.”

He has also dabbled in writing, and is currently working on his autobiography.

While Mr Umbers says he has had his fair share of “success stories”, his life has also been touched by tragedy.

His brother, Peter Umbers, Ranfurly’s police officer, was bashed with his own baton when he stopped robbery suspect Richard Thomas Lakich on May 27, 1990.

He died beside his police car.

For his bravery in the execution of his duty, Senior Constable Umbers was posthumously awarded the George Medal.

Lakich was released on parole from prison in 2004.

Mr Umbers said while he and Peter were not close, his death had a profound impact on him.

“When you’re brothers, you think one day you’ll sort it all out, but we didn’t get to do that. It was tragic for the family.”