Colman the ideal politician

Man of the people brought dignity to his office

Last updated 10:53 22/04/2008

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Fraser Colman was probably as close to the ideal of what 'the people' want in a politician, but rarely find.

The former Labour MP for Petone from 1967-78, then Pencarrow from 1978-87, Cabinet Minister, staunch advocate for the common man and a devoted husband and family man, died peacefully on 11 April at the home he had built as a newly-wed. Not for him the move to a ministerial home, even when he was entitled to one.

He remained a man of the people, always the gentleman. He treated everyone with the same consideration and displayed a genuine wish to help anyone with a problem.

It was he who ordered the end of the dawn raids on Pacific people in 1974. Locals were proud it was their man who was the Cabinet minister on board in June 1973, when the frigate Otago sailed to the Pacific in a protest against French nuclear tests at Mururoa.

"Fraser Colman played a proud role in New Zealand becoming nuclear free," Prime Minister Helen Clark said in her tribute.

"When then Prime Minister Norman Kirk decided that the New Zealand Government should actively protest against the French nuclear testing programme at Mururoa, he sent the RNZN frigates Otago and Canterbury into the testing zone. Fraser Colman was on board as a demonstration of the seriousness with which the government viewed French nuclear testing.

"The presence of the frigates with a Cabinet Minister on board attracted considerable international attention and was part of the international pressure which forced the French nuclear testing programme underground."

Current Hutt South MP Trevor Mallard describes Fraser Colman as a strong advocate for his electorate and one who worked hard for the people in it.

At times it was not easy for the man who had started out his own working life as a boilermaker.  This was particularly so after 1984, when the Lange Government began its sweeping economic reforms that had a huge impact on a Hutt Valley where the industries most affected were the life-blood of the local economy.

Fraser MacDonald Colman was born in Wellington on 23 February 1925 and attended primary schools there before the family moved to Paraparaumu and he went on to Horowhenua College. He was 13 years a boilermaker and a member of its federation. He took his first step into politics in 1955, becoming assistant general secretary of the Labour Party.

He held that job until April1967, when this man of much reserve was urged to stand in the by-election for the Petone seat following the death in office of colourful long-time MP Mick Moohan. He grew in the job, being known for his fair and genuine, 'straight as a die' approach.

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That he served as a Cabinet Minister in two Labour governments which were separated by nine years is a rare occurrence in politics, notes Trevor Mallard.

In the third Labour government he served as Minister of Mines, Immigration, Postmaster General and was Associate Minister of Labour and Works. In the fourth Labour government he was Minister of Works and Development, Minister in Chare of the Earthquake and War Damages Commission and Associate Minister of Energy.

After 20 years in Parliament he decided not to seek re-election in 1987 and was succeeded by Sonja Davies.

Trevor Mallard says Fraser Colman was a real gentleman, who achieved a great deal during his time in parliament and left politics without an enemy in the House.

Six months after he retired from Parliament, the man who was noted as a painstaking committeeman and good chairman was appointed chairman of the Fire Service Council for a three year term. In 1985 he was appointed a Privy Councillor. He also received a QSO for his services to his country.

Undoubtedly one of the best decisions he ever made in his life was to propose to Noeline Allen. As his wife she was to become his number one supporter, a warm and welcoming hostess to people from all walks of life and a wonderful worker for the electorate and community in her own right, something she continues to this day.

They first met when he was campaign manager for Henry May in the Onslow seat in 1954 and married in 1958. Their own early married life, saving for a house, developing their section in Hine Street, Wainuiomata, and building their home there mirrored the lives of so many others in the electorate at the time.

Fraser Colman was made a life member of the Wellington Rugby League Club and was patron of numerous community organisations.

He suffered a stroke in 1991. Another in 1999 caused him to lose the ability to speak. But that did not curtail his interest in outside life and, with the help of Noeline and others, he was seen often at public and political events, greeting everyone with a smile and a squeeze of the hand that showed he had lost nothing of his interest and kindly concern for others.

His funeral service held at the Wainuiomata RSA on 15 April was one of the biggest funerals ever seen in that Valley,  a veritable who's who of politicians past and present as well as many representatives of local government and community groups in Wainuiomata, particularly the Stroke Club and the RSA.  The fact that people from all walks of life and all ages rubbed shoulders there was real testimony to Fraser Colman's lasting impact on New Zealanders. Noticed among those present were former parliamentarians Jonathan Hunt, Mike Moore, Gerald OíBrien, Trevor Young, current MPs Darren Hughes, Winnie Laban and Trevor Mallard and Dame Catherine Tizard. Local body politicians included Harry Martin, Grant Moffat and Ray Wallace.

And his name will live on in the area he made his own with a grove being named after him last year in a new Wise Street, Wainuiomata, subdivision.

Fraser Colman is survived by his wife Noeline and daughters Ann, Lynda and Jeanette. Their eldest daughter, Acacia, predeceased him.

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