Jack Newman was the eldest son of Christina Thomson and her husband, Thomas (Tom) Newman, a mail contractor and a co-founder of Newman Brothers coaching firm. He was born on 3 July 1902 at the family farm, Naumai, at Brightwater, near Nelson. From Spring Grove School Jack attended Nelson College (1917–20), where he played in the First XV, captained the First XI and was a prefect.
After the death of his brother Harry in December 1919, Tom Newman bought the shares held by Harry’s sons in Newman Brothers and suggested to Jack that he enter the motor business. In 1922, deciding against a life on the land, Jack joined the firm’s workshops. He was employed as a driver, and later as a traffic clerk; in 1927 he was appointed a director. On 27 September 1926, in the Nelson cathedral, he married Myrtle Olive Alexandra Thomas; they were to have four daughters.
The disruption to the company’s Buller–West Coast services caused by the Murchison earthquake on 17 June 1929 led Newman to search for an alternative route to Reefton via Maruia. In the Matakitaki valley a ferry was required to cross an earthquake-formed lake so that mail could be delivered. Service down the Buller Gorge resumed in November 1930.
That year Jack Newman was promoted to managing director. Despite ‘pressing financial problems’ he decided to replace his ageing motor fleet. Amid the troubled depression years and United States prohibition he travelled to California to negotiate the purchase of second-hand Cadillacs. Once in New Zealand each Cadillac’s chassis was extended to carry 10–12 passengers. These cars were the mainstays of Newmans until the late 1930s, when the 20–25-seater Internationals were introduced.
By this time Newmans had moved operations into the south-eastern North Island, and had begun a service from Wellington to Hastings and Napier via Palmerston North. In 1938 Newman became chairman of directors of a new firm, Transport (Nelson) Limited, which later instituted New Zealand coach tours, rental cars and mobile homes, and handled transport services in the north of the South Island.
After the Second World War (during which he spent nearly two years as a captain in the Home Guard), Newman began to look beyond road passenger transport. In 1952 he became a director of Transport (Nelson) Holdings Limited, which grouped a number of local companies together. He devoted much attention to the firm’s associated agricultural activities, such as its development of the Moutere Hills lands in the 1950s. When Transport (Nelson) joined with Transport (Nelson) Holdings in 1976 to form the TNL Group, Jack assumed the position of chairman. It became the Newmans Group in 1986.
Jack Newman’s interest in aviation had been kindled when his father was a passenger on the first flight from Wellington to Nelson on 11 November 1921, and from joyriding with ‘Shorty’ Fowler in an Avro 504K biplane around Nelson. He was an original member of the Nelson Aero Club. In 1930 he became a shareholder of the short-lived Dominion Airlines, which planned to operate across Cook Strait, and in 1934 he was a founding director of Cook Strait Airways. This company was nationalised in 1945 to form part of the New Zealand National Airways Corporation.
Newman also established himself early as a sportsman. He played rugby at full-back for the Nelson Rugby Football Club, and in later years was chairman of the Nelson Rugby Union’s management committee. His greatest sporting achievements, however, were in cricket. He was included in the Canterbury team for their last match of the 1922–23 season, and in the early 1930s, determined to make the national side, he commuted to Wellington on the weekends to play for the Midland Club and Wellington. He played for New Zealand against South Africa in 1932 and against England in 1933. A left-arm bowler, he played his final game for Nelson at the age of 53. A past president of the Central Districts Cricket Association, he became a national selector and team manager. He was president and a life member of the New Zealand Cricket Council, a founder and president (1974–81) of the New Zealand Cricket Foundation, and a member of the MCC, London.
Turning to bowls in the 1957–58 season, in two years Newman was a local champion. In 1960 he was also a Nelson golf representative. His interest in horses and thoroughbred racing saw him become vice president of the Nelson Jockey Club.
As well as business acumen and sporting talent, Jack Newman possessed a generous nature and was active in many community organisations. He served on the committee of the Nelson College Old Boys’ Association, and he sat for 21 years on the Nelson College council of governors. He was a founding member of the Rotary Club of Nelson, a Nelson city councillor (1944–53), and the chairman of the reserves committee. He worked for the creation of Founders Park, was a member of the cathedral building appeal committee and chaired the advisory board overseeing construction of the Salvation Army’s Omaio retirement village at Stoke.
In 1980 Newman retired as chairman of the TNL Group, although he remained honorary founder president. In retirement he saw Newmans involved in air travel. With de Havilland Dash 7 aircraft, Newmans Air began routes from Nelson to Auckland and Queenstown in December 1984. However, competition caused the company to amalgamate with Ansett Transport Industries in 1986 to form Ansett New Zealand.
Jack Newman was involved in the New Zealand Passenger Services Federation and was made a life member of the New Zealand National Travel Association. He was appointed a justice of the peace in 1950 and in 1955 became a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Transport. He was made a CBE in 1963 and a Knight Bachelor in 1977 for services to the travel industry, commerce and the community. A loyal family man of simple tastes, Newman was widowed on 27 October 1987. He lived in his Brougham Street home until failing health prompted a move to Nelson’s Green Gables Home and Hospital for the Aged, where he died on 23 September 1996. He was survived by three daughters.