Rural Manawatu postie with heart bows out in style
Ron Lawrence has been the rural postie on RD 54 for 20 years. His reign has come to an end and Carly Thomas went along to see what kept him there for so long and what made him so well loved.
There's no hurry.
Ron Lawrence has been driving the same beautiful stretch, curve and twist north of Feilding for the past 20 years and he treats time like a friend.
One you can't rush.
He's known, this gold nugget of a man. Lawrence is known, needed and notorious for leaving a Werther's Original lolly in a mailbox or two.
He stops for a chat. He waves. He smiles like he's won the lottery, and the things he has done for the people on his rural run have added up over the years.
And today, is his last day.
The road opens up as it always has and, with some old-time crooners on the radio, it's work as usual. And it's work he clearly loves. Never once has the rural postie had a sick day or a holiday, but his ethos of taking life as it comes and enjoying what you have has endured.
It's nudging 8am and the sun is peeping through. "It's the best job in the world when it's like this," Lawrence says.
Kimbolton is as suburban as this run gets and he trundles around the village in his trusty red ute in no time. He has made many friends in the little village. Everyone knows him, and he says when he first started the kids were "knee high to a grasshopper and now I see them getting around in their own vehicles – some even have kids".
He laughs, eyes twinkling with the knowledge of days spent working hard and well. Many who live at the 192 letterboxes he delivers to have heard about his dream over the years and pretty soon that dream will be a reality.
"I'm going to go fishing. I'm going back home to Wairoa."
It was a feeling that started to pull 20 or so years ago when Lawrence hit 50, he says.
He was born at the mouth of the Wairoa River, a stone's throw from his marae. His family are still there.
"Most of them are buried now. I'm Ngati Kahungunu and as kid I just loved it there. There was no TV, no phones and we all had work to do, but once the work was done Mum would say, like that TV ad, 'get lost' and then voom, we'd be down the beaches and down the river."
He pauses at the big rustic letterbox he has stopped at just out of Kimbolton. The letterboxes are friends too. "Some are enemies", but this one's a good one, he says.
He talks about all the fish he will catch and the quad bike that's all set up and waiting. He explains the best way to smoke and cook kahawai – "olive oil is good, virgin of course".
Now's the time, he says. Home is calling.
"You have to do it when you still can. I'm lucky. I am in good health. If you've got good health, you're a millionaire."
Not too many scone stops is one of the keys to his impeccable and impressive record of no sick days for 20 years. "If I had all the scones I'm offered I wouldn't fit behind the wheel."
And loving what you do, knowing that you have to work, "that's a part of life", so make sure you do something you enjoy, he says.
"I love the people, That's what makes it and there's no stress. And if there is, you have made it, so you can stop it, too. No, I just cruise along and finish when I finish."
Lawrence took on the run all those years ago after he was made redundant from driving milk tankers. It was up for grabs and grab he did, but he admits he never would have thought back then that the job would last him this long.
"No, who would've thought? I like driving. That's been a help and each day is different. But really it's the people. The people have kept me here."
The houses start to thin out. The skies get wide like a western and the Ruahines anchor clouds. The radio crackles, so a CD is put on. Tom Jones purrs and Lawrence turns down the wonderfully named Peep O' Day Rd.
It's good old Kiwi gravel with the occasional renegade cow or sheep grazing the verge, and Lawrence has had his fair share of nerve-racking moments on these roads.
"You can leave Kimbolton and the sun is shining, then you get down the road and you're knee deep in snow. There are days when you have to think of your own safety. You don't want to bury your vehicle or run it off the road."
Lawrence says he came down through Rangiwahia one day to find kids building snow men bigger than him in the middle of the road. There have been many other days when trees have blocked the roads
"I'll give things a go, but I'm not silly. Who really gives a damn if you don't get your power bill that day? I'd be happy never to get one again. One thing I do know, there's not many love letters nowadays. If it's got love in it it's 'we would love you to pay'."
Lawrence still delivers bread and milk and anything else that people ring him and ask him to get.
He delivers eggs from the one letterbox to the next. He takes parcels to the door, sends texts to say things have arrived, pats the dog, checks in on the elderly and when someone asked him recently how to put a flag on their letterbox, he bought his drill out the next day and did it himself.
One Christmas, Lawrence recalls, a parcel came in. It was addressed to "mum and dad, RD 54, Kimbolton".
"I found mum and dad. It took a while, but I found them. I've had a letter from Australia with grandma, RD 2 Kimbolton and I found her too. I thought, well, I'll start with the oldest lady. If you hang around a place as long as I have you get a sense of things."
It's those accumulated extras that he has done, the lifelines he has thrown and the bringing a bit of warmth into someone's day that makes Lawrence a gem. And it makes him well loved.
People wait by their letterboxes to shake his hand. There is baking left in a letterbox, good old fashioned fruit cake, venison, salami, eggs galore and there are hugs to be had, too. At the back of Ohingaiti, Lawrence gets the giggles reminiscing about some of the funnier moments.
"Some days, the sun will be shining and you'll take a parcel up to someone's door and they have just got out of the shower and decided to do some house work. Yahoo, singing with the music and I think, 'do I bang on the door?'
His grin widens.
"One lady come to the door for a parcel and she needed to sign for it. She'd just got out of the shower and she had her towel wrapped around her, holding it in place. And here I am handing her a parcel and a pen, so I shifted them to one hand and I held her towel while she signed. Boy did she giggle away."
A bunch of "Ron's girls" are throwing him a party at the Rangiwahia Hall. The invite has a poem written about Lawrence by Rangiwahia local Fiona Morton and another local, Rose Brodie, said: "He won't be driving home that night".
"We all love Ron and will give him a good and proper send off."
Brodie's letterbox has been sitting at knee height waiting to be put on a post for many years because "Ron's too good and brings the mail into us everyday, so it's been a not-got-round-to-it job".
Brodie is at Ngaire Hancock's house doing her garden when Lawrence stops off. After her husband died, Hancock became less mobile and when Lawrence saw she was having to take the ride-on mower down the driveway to get her mail, he started to deliver it to her door.
"You keep an eye out and you know when something's not right. Sometimes you have to take the time and I get paid back ten fold by doing things for people, I really do.
"I say gidday. That's the way I start with people and I smile and some smile back and others look at you like you are the delivery boy. And that's OK. Country people are good people."
Lawrence stops off for a cup of tea at the Flat Hills Cafe. He walks into the kitchen and it's like the sun has come out. "Hi Ron", "oh look, it's Ron". Chopping is set aside for a moment. Hands are parked on hips instead of in the sink and they all indulge in some nattering.
They are all invited to come fishing with him as he leaves out the back door and as he climbs into his van the significance of this being his last day seems to set in.
"I will miss it," he says, "but it's time to get home".
Lawrence snakes his way back to Rangiwahia and Apiti after Mangaweka and Ohingaiti and his journey starts to feel full circle. The Ruahines have been by his side and their foothills have etched themselves on to the back of his hand. Now, they are at his back as he drives away down the Kimbolton Rd one last time, towards the sea, and home.