Veronica Burns Life Story | Holiday became new life

02:17, Feb 02 2013
FUNNY GIRL: Veronica Burns never lost her sharp Irish sense of humour.

Veronica Nora Burns, b Cork, Ireland July 30, 1924; m (1) George Byrne (dec); m (2) Larry Burns 3s, 2d; d Hastings, October 19, 2012, aged 88.

Veronica Burns, a nurse who trained in Birmingham in World War II, unwittingly made a new life for herself in New Zealand when she sailed from the United Kingdom in 1957.

A year before boarding the boat for New Zealand she was widowed when her first husband George Byrne, also of Irish descent, died from cancer.

Following his death, Vera, as her friends in England and Ireland called her, decided it would be timely to pay her brother Fred Leach a brief holiday visit in Wellington.

When Mrs Byrne sailed in to Wellington Harbour, her brother was living at 91 Rodrigo Rd in Melrose, in a house beneath Truby King's Karitane Hospital.

Living with him at the time was his good friend Larry Burns, a Scotsman who had been raised in the village of Twechar, a small one-time mining village in East Dunbartonshire.


Mr Leach and Mr Burns met in a UK departure lounge in 1952 before boarding a flight to New Zealand, where they took up work as Royal New Zealand Air Force military policemen based in Wellington.

Mrs Byrne very quickly became Mrs Larry Burns soon after her arrival in New Zealand, and Mr Leach happily gave his sister away to his good friend at the wedding in Hastings' Sacred Heart Church.

The couple raised three sons and two daughters in Hawke's Bay.

As well as looking after her family, Mrs Burns worked as a staff sister at Hastings Memorial Hospital's coronary care unit for many years.

The Burns family lived for some time at Bridge Pa on a property covered in pine trees. Mrs Burns bred Angora goats on the property, was a craftswoman and, in her twilight years, while living in retirement at Eastbourne St in Hastings, also revealed her strong talent as an artist.

She is remembered by Napier Arts Club members as a talented and well-liked team player. Her brother Fred, who never married, also shifted to Hawke's Bay for work and family reasons before he died about 15 years ago.

Mr Leach, his sister and brother-in-law, remained firm friends throughout their lives and, with Mr Leach leading the project, became committed breeders of schnauzer dogs in Hawke's Bay.

Alongside that venture, the Burns family also ran market gardening and cleaning businesses in Hawke's Bay.

Mrs Burns experimented with natural dyes, spinning, knitting and weaving her goats' mohair.

When the herd expanded to 80, the Burns shifted to a Tikokino property.

Mrs Burns never lost her sharp Irish wit. When driving her car on the streets of Hastings when nearing pedestrian crossings she would call out to tardy pedestrians: "Quick, mate, or I'll cut your water off."

Similarly, when her children were growing up and being a bit tardy in responding to instructions they too were told: "Careful or I'll give you a bunch of fives."

A stroke at the end of 2011 put an end to her creative, practical lifestyle and she became a resident of Duart Rest Home in Havelock North, where her 82-year-old husband Larry helped nurse her.

Late last year, Mr Burns had good cause to reflect on the lifelong extended holiday his wife took to New Zealand in 1957.

She was buried in the same Havelock North cemetery as the older brother whom she had followed to Wellington 55 years earlier.

Sources: Larry Burns, Geordie Burns and Shirley Duthie.

The Dominion Post