Hermann Curry was a year away from semi-retirement in Samoa when he met his unfortunate death in a Lower Hutt bus depot.
The 64-year-old and his wife, Nive, had finished building their retirement home in the village of Vaitele-Fou on the island of Upolu in 2007. They were scheduled to stay in this special home again briefly to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Samoan independence next month, but Mr Curry died late last month after chasing a youth out of the Waterloo bus depot.
He was buried on Monday in the blue blazer he treasured as an old boy of Chanel College in Apia. The foundation pupil of the college, opened in 1962, had planned to attend its 50th anniversary celebrations on the return home.
Samoan independence in 1962 meant a lot to Hermann Curry. His matai title of Lagomau I Tumua reflected a personal strong connection to the Samoan independence movement. The title originally belonged to Nive Curry's grandfather, Tapu Tai, who stopped seven bullets when he was shot dead by New Zealand military police on December 28, 1929, during the Mau movement shooting on Apia's waterfront. Tapu Tai and 11 others died while trying to protect Samoan independence leader Tupua Tamasese Lealofi III.
At Mr Curry's funeral service in Lower Hutt this week mourners reflected on the shock of yet another family member dying in controversial circumstances. But they reflected, too, on the joy the humble, white-haired bus driver with the chief's demeanour brought to those around him.
He was born in Taufisi in Western Samoa, the son of an Irish immigrant and a Samoan mother. His father was a diesel mechanic, a hotel and sawmill owner and an investor able to cash in on restoring large vehicles left behind by military personnel at the end of World War II.
Mr Curry arrived in Auckland in 1964 where he spent a year as a pupil at St Paul's College in Grey Lynn.
On leaving school he shifted to Wellington where he put his mechanical skills to use on the assembly line at General Motors.
In 1968, he met his wife at a Friday night social function at St Joseph's Church, near the Hataitai Tunnel, where Mr Curry was playing as a base guitarist. They married two years later and started raising a family of five sons and two daughters.
Throughout 42 years of married life a big emphasis for "Big H" – as he was known – and his wife was on education, particularly of their boys at St Patrick's College, Silverstream.
Mr Curry worked for the Hutt Valley Energy Board and TransAlta for two decades while his family was growing up before moving on to the buses part-time about eight years ago. Early last year he went fulltime on the buses.
In his spare time he looked after friends and family by using the mechanical skills inherited from his father to service refrigerators, washing machines and cars in his backyard garage. He preferred to stay under the radar, cooking a meal for his family, washing their blue and white rugby jerseys and quietly patrolling the sidelines of sports fields.
He loved his job as a bus driver, was a good communicator and kept an eye on the gold card holders, making sure they were well settled in their seats before driving off.
His humour, a mixture of palagi and Pacific Islander, made him the walking personification of the naturally amusing stereotype of "Samoans being the Irish of the Pacific".
A tall man, he exhibited Frankenstein Herman Munster-like characteristics after watching the late night horrors on TV with his "own little Munsters". As well as "Big H" Mr Curry was also called "Frank" by some of his friends and Papa H by his granddaughter.
He accepted the nicknames in good grace and had his own "little Munsters" oscillating between fits of fear and laughter when he paid them late night visits with his Frankenstein mask on.
There was, however, nothing funny about the circumstances that preceded Mr Curry's sudden death.
He was a man who had earned the right for a well-earned retirement with his wife. The couple had sat on taro boxes in their backyard while planning their next round-the-clock work moves to better the longterm interests of their family, friends and community.
Mr Curry, a man who adopted three children as well as fathering four boys, spent his life fundraising and organising handups for others. He was a perennial giver, the sort of bloke who would give you the shirt off his back – with a note in the top pocket if necessary.
Lagomau I Tumua Hermann Emanuel Curry: b Taufisi, Western Samoa, March 3, 1948; m Nive Ah-Hi, 5s, 2d; d Lower Hutt, April 27, 2012.
Sources: Curry family, Winnie Laban.
- © Fairfax NZ News