Phillip Geoffrey Forbes Bonnette (Red Fred):
b Port Sunlight, England, November 1, 1940;
m Jo (diss), 2d;
d Wellington, January 21, 2012; aged 71.
Red Fred, as Phillip Bonnette was known for most of his life, was born to ride. As a young boy, his mother would strap him to the back of her motorcycle as she whizzed around the Welsh village where he spent his formative years.
He bought his first bike - a classic British Norton - as a teenager, and after settling in the seaside Porirua community of Titahi Bay in the 1960s, became a stalwart of the Kapiti branch of the Ulysses Club, a group for older motorcyclists.
There, his love of motorbikes and his generous spirit and concern for others made a perfect match as he played the part of Father Christmas for 10 years on the club's annual run around the lower North Island, distributing presents to children suffering from muscular dystrophy.
The object of the exercise, held in the first week of December each year, was to make the kids feel special. Red Fred would ride his big V Max bike, with sidecar attached and loaded with presents and beer, dressed as Santa. The garb created much confusion with oncoming motorists during the 1300-kilometre ride.
A typical run saw the group drop in on schools in Masterton and Pahiatua en route to Napier for the first stop. The muscular dystrophy kids would be given a special present and other children in sight would be given lollies from the attendant elves and fairies.
From Napier on the Saturday the group would head across the middle of the North Island to a Waitara marae in Taranaki before heading home to the Kapiti Coast on the Sunday.
Red Fred, an intelligent and at times overly adventurous man, was often geographically challenged on these trips around the central plateau. On one occasion near Te Kuiti, he realised he was travelling in the wrong direction and, consulting his map, saw a paper road marked by a thin red line leading over the hills direct to Waitara, where he wanted to go.
After a while he turned a corner on this rural track and came across two pig hunters in a remote part of the King Country. Fully dressed as Father Christmas, he asked the hunters, surrounded by hungry dogs, if they would like a lolly from Santa in return for directions.
All they wanted for Christmas was a beer, so Red Fred pulled two cans of Tui from his sidecar and handed them over. The hunters felt they had met the biking equivalent of the "Lord of Snowdonia".
Red Fred also organised runs for food banks and St John Ambulance and played Santa at the Cancer Kids Christmas party, happily greeting children and taking them for spins on his bike.
Away from the bikes his mechanical and computer skills saw him lead an interesting professional life. He worked on communications at the Avalon television studios, on chase boats for Sir Michael Fay during high-profile America's Cup campaigns in the 1980s and also helped put together the Whanganui computer for the police department.
The death notice in the paper for Phillip Geoffrey Forbes Bonnette simply read: "Red Fred - Phillip Bonnette."
Mr Bonnette was born in Port Sunlight, near Liverpool, in November 1940, as Britain was under the cosh during World War II. He was the only child of George and Grace Bonnette, who moved to the small rural Welsh community of Bala soon after his birth.
Red Fred came from a long line of engineers, chemists and strong independent personalities. His parents had worked and met at a Merseyside soap factory. His father was the head chemist at a Lever Brothers factory and his mother worked in the laboratory.
Red Fred gained his love of motorcycles from his mother during those years when she took him out on her bike around the village. The nickname that stayed with him through his life also came from those days.
The locals in Bala, a market town with little more than a main street, referred to the little ginger-haired boy on the back of his mother's motorcycle as "young red". When he went to grammar school and a boy asked his name, he replied: "Red." The boy assumed he had said "Fred", and the moniker was bestowed.
Red Fred had a love of adventure from an early age. During his formative years in Bala, he would sail on the local lake, put snakes in his grandmother's bed and, apparently, play with high explosives while no-one was looking. The distinctive bushy beard he wore for most of his adult life was largely to hide a scar left on his jaw from a serious gash after he came off a bike while performing tricks for some local members of the fairer sex.
Red Fred inherited his father's mechanical brain, and, with his best mate, invented a super suction vacuum cleaner which, for reasons only ever clear to themselves, they decided would be best launched on the other side of the world in New Zealand.
Mr Bonnette had a Land Rover, which he had painted bright red, and he and his friend loaded all their worldly possessions into it and bought boat tickets for their passage Down Under. An hour before the ship was due to sail, however, Red Fred - who was parked up ready to board - heard that his mate had been killed in an accident while on his way. He decided to continue the trip alone. It must have been a tough journey.
He soon made friends in New Zealand, and got involved in a folk club as a sound man. He started going out with one of the members who would become his wife. The couple settled in Titahi Bay, where Red Fred began building the family home.
He was forever making things in the garage, including a boat for his two daughters, whom he taught to sail, and numerous guinea pig and rabbit hutches.
Red Fred also loved skating, and the opening of a roller rink in Porirua in the 1980s gave him a handy outlet for his penchant for speed skating.
It was through his love of motorcycling that he most made his mark on the local community.
His biking mates recalled the heart and soul of the Ulysses Club's Kapiti branch as a man who was a sidecar "swinger" in his early days. There were branch members who refused to go on club rides unless Red Fred was making the trip. Their reasoning was simple. They knew, with Mr Bonnette along for the ride, everyone would have a good time and bikes and riders would make it home safely.
Female bikers in particular got back into riding because they felt safe beneath the protective umbrella of his biking know-how and practicality.
After he died of cancer on January 21 and after his cremation, the urn containing his ashes was given pride of place in a sidecar attached to a big V Max motorcycle for a memorial ride. Sixty mourners made the back track ride to the Ohingaiti Hotel on State Highway 1 in Rangitikei for a lively wake.
His daughters and friends arranged to have his ashes later scattered from a yacht in front of the boatsheds off Titahi Bay beach.
Mr Bonnette loved being Father Christmas on a bike. He had a heart of gold and it saddened him that some of the kids were not around anymore when he made his annual philanthropic rides round the North Island.
By last December, however, the onset of cancer had taken its toll, and Red Fred's muscular dystrophy kids were very much on his mind. His poor health meant he could not make the annual Christmas present run, so he handed over his Santa suit to his mates.
None of them could bring themselves to wear it. The reason was simple: Red Fred was unique and irreplaceable.
Sources: Bindy Bonnette, Ron Meiklen, Kathy Ellis.