Frank Oliver farewelled in Palmerston North

'To many of us, Dad seemed to be indestructible'

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 07:49 24/03/2014
Frank oliver funeral
MURRAY WILSON/FAIRFAX NZ

FAREWELL, FRANK: Frank Oliver is carried from the church on Saturday. Pallbearers from left are James Oliver, Mervyn Murphy, and Anton Oliver with Marist rugby players in the guard of honour.

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Many judicious metaphors were used to describe Frank Oliver's life and rugby career at his funeral in Palmerston North on Saturday.

With the congregation strewn with All Blacks and rugby disciples, most knew about his toughness in that area, and the size of his enormous hands.

But the priest at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Father Marcus Francis, summed it up cleverly.

He wondered when "Frank arrives at the pearly gates" and is greeted by St Peter, if this applies: "Whether what goes on tour stays on tour holds good for heaven."

Oliver's son Anton had flown in from London, where he lives and works, and expressed his initial shock at his father's death aged 65 last Monday.

"To many of us, Dad seemed to be indestructible."

But as the priest reminded everyone, that no matter how robust, even with 43 games for the All Blacks, "the human body isn't meant to last."

The funeral pretty much packed out "St Pat's". Other All Blacks there were his brother-in-law Mark Donaldson, Taine Randell, New Zealand Rugby Union president Ian MacRae, Jeff Wilson, Gary Knight, Sam Strahan, John Callesen, Christian Cullen, John Ashworth, Andy Haden, Stu Wilson, Leicester Rutledge, Dave Loveridge, Tony Brown, Norm Hewitt, Jason O'Halloran and Laurie Knight.

Knight, the doctor, and Oliver, the bushman, became friends when dirt-trackers on the 1976 tour to South Africa. After their rugby days they lost touch for 20 years only to reunite at Pauanui on holiday in the summer of 1998.

Knight paid tribute to "a true man's man", a warrior, and said condolences had been received from Allan Martin. He was one of the Welsh locks in the controversial lineout at Cardiff in 1978, the one which Oliver and Haden fell from and drew the winning penalty.

Knight recognised Oliver's strength and courage and said: "We all knew Frank wasn't an angel; it was in his DNA".

There was a noticeable simplicity about the service, in line with Oliver's uncomplicated outlook, a man who preferred to do a deal on a handshake. There was just one photo, of him with his beloved logs and the plainest of caskets.

The funeral opened quietly with Dire Straits' blues rock song Brothers in Arms.

Sons, James and Anton, from Frank's first and second marriages, spoke more about the person than the rugby. James, the fourth of five Oliver boys, said his father had done a lot of living in his 65 years, of how he kept returning to timber, the constant thing in his life.

"He enjoyed his own company a lot in the bush and cherished family time."

James recalled how his father would sit on the sand dunes at Pauanui Beach for three hours watching the boys in the surf, to ensure they came home safely.

Both James and Anton described their father's love of books, especially westerns.

"I think that was where he wanted to be; he was born 100 years too late."

His jobs matched his persona - working in his father's concrete-post factory aged 14, truck-driving in mines in Australia aged 17, then the police, crayfishing and forestry.

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- Manawatu Standard

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