Bob Wells once said “Your true value depends entirely on what your compared with”
I’ve just buried my dad.. to be exact, on the 25th of January. He was truly agreat man, top dad and granddad. You might recall, I wrote my blog about Fathers Day and it was a bit of a tribute to my “Old Man”. It was about getting in touch, calling your dad and just saying “I love You Dad”.
I used that blog to form the basis of my eulogy at his funeral.
I want to share a little of Dad with you all.. Over the past few days, I have reflected on his life and his achievements. Ronald Leslie Portland, less than ordinary really..or was he?
He moved to Taumarunui, in the middle of New Zealand’s North Island, a cold wet and drab place in the Winter.. Hot and dry in the Summer.
As a youngster, he grew up in the lush Waikato farming community of Matamata, known for it’s Thoroughbreds & Dairy farms.
His dad, was awarded a ballot farm after WW I ended. His mother, our “Nana” hailed from the Australian state of Victoria, the daughter of a trucking magnate, hence my dads fascination with trucks.. He was in the Fire Brigade and whilst there forged lasting friendships. Friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
Met, wooed and courted my Mother, Ila, who no doubt was waiting with open arms to greet him. Probably telling him off for giving St Peter a hard time on the way through. He was a handsome bugger in his day, no wonder my Mother fell for him hook, line and sinker. She was a bit of a looker too! (as most of you will remember.)
I recall, in those early days, he also drove a taxi and I remember some of the stories he told reluctantly about that time. The Tangiwai Train disaster, befriending a very young Trevor Rupe, better known to you as Carmen. No doubt they are reminiscing right now!!
Ron..as he was fondly known, ran the Rangatira Service Station and became an institution, pumping petrol, dressed immaculately in his peak cap, green shirt and black bow-tie.. White coat on special occasions, like the time the NZ film Commission filmed “Don’t let it Get You” with Lew Prime and Kiri Te Kawana. I helped out at the service station, hosing down the forecourt. He made me feel important! Helped myself to the takings too. He knew, and covered it up.
Then one day, in came this Jag, filled it up and off they sped. None other than the famous Gilles Ave bank robbers.. He dined on that one for some time.. The tyre bay was his bar, flagons of beer consumed with the local police and Catholic Priest.. He would buy Fr King the “truth” every week and they have a chuckle over a flagon or two…and so life went on, just an ordinary bloke.
Then, it happened. Caltex flew him and his tanker driver mate, Bob Cooper to Sydney.. Unbeknown, they went seeking permission to open a little canteen on the refurbished Service Station. This was basically the first food outlet in the country attached to a Servo..and it put me through college. Not that I knew it at the time. Bonici Motors took a bus to the Chateau every weekend during the skiing season and Mum & Dad cashed in on this.. They would call ahead from Te Kuiti with an approximate time of arrival and whilst refuelling with diesel, the passenger’s would fill up on home made pies and soup..Something that became legendary over the years.
They were the best of times, or so I thought. I was completely unaware of the hardships they were enduring, but never once did I see my dad loose it in front of any of us boys.
Oh, he knew some pretty important people too.. Politicians, Film Stars and a whole bunch of other folk, some I came to know later in life.. Sir Michael Fowler, Sir Basil Arthur Roy Jack, the Meads Bothers, Those famous Kiwi All Blacks. Police inspectors. And the list goes on.. One of my fondest memories was the time we spent with McLaren & Brabam, those racing greats.. Of course, I cannot leave out Tuesday Weld, a beautiful actress that I got to know in those formative years.
He loved to go camping and some of the fondest memories are of those times in the bush. Every Sunday we would go for a drive, an adventure really, drive for miles and miles in the Mark 2 Zephyr, then the Mark 3 and that famous Jowett Javelin. German precision, he would delight in saying. His dream was to own a Mercedes. I think he did get to drive one. Then there was the “Shop Truck” a 40’s something Ford. We loved those trips to the dump.
In the mid 60’s Ron, Dad, decided on a career change. Right out of left field he became the Bailiff. A job he absolutely loved. There are so so many stories of that time, but a couple that stand out are the day he and Phil Van Duschoeten, a local policeman went bush..to this day, I don’t think any one really knows what happened..but they had a hell of an adventure. That I do know.
The other that stands out, is the day the two of them went to seize some livestock from the infamous Huti Barratt. They arrived at the Taringamoutu Farm, told Huti they were going to seize the livestock, painted a blue cross on the stock to be taken. Got a call around 5:30am from one very irate Ongarue Transport driver. You see, cunning Huti and his boys had painted a blue cross on every living animal in site, including the dogs. That put paid to the stock being carted off but he locked Huti up anyway! There are many many more stories that I’m sure will be told, some here, some there..where ever that may be.
Dad, one things for sure..you will never be forgotten. So while I was pondering my weekly column, it dawned on me that Fathers Day was upon us and vivid in my mind was the journey that my son Phil, and you and I took. The post I wrote about Fathers day can be found here.
Dad…I love you. Ya old bugger.. Rest in eternal peace.. I know you’ll be talking the hind leg of a donkey. And just don’t you ever stop mate.. Safe travels Dad.. Lord knows you’ll be doing plenty of it!!