Eulogy – Gerald A Hensley

Thank you, Annabelle (Cheetham) and Catherine (Norton) for performing ‘Der Engel’ so beautifully for us all. Dad loved music.

Thanks also to Simon for his thoughtful words.  We like to boast of “tiny New Zealand speaking to the world” – Simon helps show us why Dad’s was a voice to which the world listened.

“E mihi ana te whanau | ki a koutou | kua tae mai ki te nehu | o to matou pāpā, kua hinga te totara | i te wao nui o Tāne”  On behalf of our family, thank you for coming to note the loss of this mighty Totara.

The four of us, Caroline, Sarah, Sophie and I – as well as the next generations; Rafi, Juliet, Alex, Claudia, Peter, Geoff and Jonny want to thank you all for coming today, for the kind words and support we’ve been given.

We had ringside seats to an extraordinary life and an extraordinary love story and we are touched to see that our love and admiration for Gerald Hensley is shared in the wider community. 

Born and educated in Christchurch – his amazing marriage, the foreign service, the commonwealth, security and defense – and then books, grapes and grandchildren. 

He was the best storyteller about his life and I can’t improve on that, so I’m going to share a perspective on two other parts of his life.

The pursuit of knowledge – his endless curiosity – and then him as a Dad.

Through all of these Samoa runs as a golden thread.

In fact today is Mum and Dad’s 64th wedding anniversary. The service sheet has a picture of him, on the best day of his life.

My daughter’s reading links us today to Robert Louis Stevenson, the teller of tales, and to Dad working for Samoan independence in Stevenson’s house – Vailima.

From that time on – everything that Dad did or cared about – was inextricably linked to Juliet. His best friend, his confidante, his sounding board, and the editor. 

The pursuit of knowledge:

Juliet helped fill the house with music and books and hospitality.  And was a key driver of the success of his writing, everything he wrote was lovingly (and competently) edited by a journalist with an eye for what will read well.

That combination produced such wonderful work; insightful, witty and lapidary. 

Final Approaches is a memoir of service. And a roll call of great and interesting friends.  

The common threads of which are public service, fierce intellect and kindliness (although Lee Kuan Yew might be surprised to be described as kindly).

Beyond the Battlefield is a paean to Peter Fraser and the greatest generation which led us through WWII. New Zealand was financially broke at the start of the war. By the end, our efforts had earned us a meaningful voice in the peace. 

I am not here to talk politics – but NZ should pull its weight was a theme of Dad’s writing – all the way to the end of his life.

In a word ‘realism’ or, as Simon put it, “the world as it is, not how it should be.”

Friendly Fire is his most important book and the toughest one for the family to judge. Because Dad is both player and umpire. 

In his defence; he did meticulous research and sourcing and got almost all the participants to contribute their thoughts.

On top of the books were his regularly published opinion pieces on China, on Asia, on Five Eyes, our role in the Pacific, 

  • Prime Ministers I have known. 
  • Prime Ministers I Have Liked (a much shorter piece).

It should be recorded that all the financial proceeds of his writing were immediately converted into Bollinger champagne to be consumed by us.

Politics interested him as much as history – and the current coalition had him thinking, opining and harrumphing right to the very end.

Enough about Gerald the historian – I want to talk about Dad.

Picture – if you will – it’s the 1950’s; a thin, asthmatic, intense, expert on the shortcomings of early 17th century English parliaments.

On a course for Magdalene College and an academic life.  To mullioned windows, terrible weather and leather elbow patches, faculty drama…in a word ‘earnest’.

My mother replaced that with glamour – high quality tailoring, better weather, style and zing.

She brought her wonderful friends, parties and the unique gift of her family.  

  • The noisy, cheerful, squabbling and loving-life-to-the-full
  • which the wider Young clan brought to Dad. 
  • And a shout out to all the members of the “Cousins” What’s App group chat for being here today.

Many here will be familiar with my parents’ love story – the conversation that engaged them for so long.

In a shame faced way Dad would quote Stevenson – “the children of lovers are orphans”. The idea troubled him – but, I think, secretly pleased my mother.

Told so widely and so well – many of you already know a lot of our family’s stories. 

What may not come through so clearly is his kindliness, his twinkly grin, and his loving efforts to include.

He was a very good father who enjoyed us, supported us and entered into our struggles and we adored him for that.

Whether it was donning a funny hat, playing a silly game or indulging an unserious interest. He would give it all a whirl. 

Granny and Grandpa Young, with our much loved wicked uncles, introduced us to the bloodsport of croquet during holidays in Akaroa – and we took it with us to Singapore.

Our back yard was grandly dubbed the Queen Astrid Park Croquet Club. Sounds impressive – really just the name of the street we lived on.

In typical Dad way, it became the basis for other elaborate jokes, flourishes and baroque additions.

Tempered by the steel of the Youngs, the playing fields of Queen Astrid Park were not for the faint of heart.  One hoop was near a clump of bamboo where snakes were said to dwell. Whenever a visiting player approached a club member would insincerely offer them a mallet’s length in, ostensibly to “reduce concerns”. Funny how their play deteriorated . 

Like a circus ringmaster Dad innovated to bring the punters in. Our back lawn filled with tropical toads every night and Dad entertained high hopes for “Midnight Toad Racing – Amongst the Hoops”. Alas, it never bore fruit due to the toads’ flat refusal to race.

But the Tour of New Zealand was a triumph.

  • Gorgeous T- were designed and awarded to members
  • When going home on leave our luggage had printed tags saying “Queen Astrid Park Croquet Club Tour of New Zealand”
  • We did play a number of Tour matches
  • In Akaroa. Where, sadly, the absence of snakes and the presence of our uncles blunted our best weapons.

To cap it all off someone in Canberra noticed the tag on Dad’s suitcase and asked about the club.  Dad said proudly that the clubhouse was in Singapore and was one of the oldest in the region.  

Imagine his, and our, joy at receiving a letter from the West Australian Croquet Association (the WACA) – inviting the club to participate in their jubilee tournament in Perth. 

This was awkward.  

In his way, Dad’s answer was to commission elaborate QAP CC stationary riffing on a heraldic club crest: described as “Snakes rampant on a field of toads – with a mallet”.

All that – to send one letter to the President to say that the club had recently completed an arduous tour of New Zealand and was not accepting further invitations.

As we four went off on our grown-up journeys, Mum and Dad made a warm and fulfilled life for themselves in Martinborough. 

Farmer Grandpa mowing the lawns, making marmalade from his bumper orange harvest and complaining about rain was peak Gerald. 

He was touched beyond measure that Ata Rangi made such a gorgeous vintage from the last Syrah harvest which our mother ever saw and then named it ‘Juliet’ in her honour. Fingers crossed that this long, glorious dry summer will produce a similar vintage – a Juliet – for him to savour with her.

Of course his, and our lives, were not always carefree. We were hit by extraordinary grief with Geoff’s death and the loss of our darling mother eleven years ago.

Throughout his life, thinking about New Zealand, representing New Zealand, Dad was always interested in what connected us – in the voyages and in the peopling of the Pacific; the wakas sailing to Samoa and on to New Zealand, the journeys throughout Polynesia.

Latterly he had been thinking about Hawaiki and Rangiātea as our origin point both tangibly and spiritually.

He told me of standing with my sisters on the island of Ra’iātea in Tahiti. Thought to be the original and the actual Rangiātea.

He was moved by the idea that we come from that relative handful of brave men and women sailing down that long harbour to who knew where?

“E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai |i Rangiātea.”  ‘I shall never be lost, I am a seed sown from Rangiātea.’

I picture him now – industriously paddling his canoe back up that long harbour. 

And may God guide him and bless him on that final journey, in the sure and certain hope that his beloved Julie awaits him at the end.

Thank you all for being here.

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