First Rarotonga drowning victim farewelled

LAST JOURNEY: Pallbearers carry the coffin of Judith Palmer at her funeral in Takapuna today.
LAST JOURNEY: Pallbearers carry the coffin of Judith Palmer at her funeral in Takapuna today.

The Auckland woman who drowned in a Rarotonga lagoon the day before her daughter's wedding has been farewelled today.

The death of Judith Lorraine Palmer, 61, was one half of a double tragedy in which her friend and Birkenhead neighbour Robert Groves, 64, also drowned while trying to save her on December 11.

St Peter's Anglican Church in Takapuna was packed today with dozens of police supporting her husband John Palmer - a chief inspector - and nurses, mostly from North Shore Hospital where Judy worked.

Robert Palmer, reading the eulogy on behalf of his brother, spoke of the "very cruel and harsh hand" dealt by fate.

Daughter Vanessa was due to marry Rhys Woodger the day after Judith's death, however her passing created a  situation similar to one she and her husband had experienced 42 years earlier.

Judith's father died just weeks before their wedding and though there was talk about postponing it, the couple tied the knot.

Vanessa and Rhys were married in a "small, intimate" ceremony days ago, not at their planned location in Rarotonga, but by Judith's bedroom window at the Palmers' Hibiscus homestead.

Some media reports suggested there were warning signs at the site where Judith drowned but John emphasised that was not the case.

However, New Zealand High Commissioner to the Cook Islands, John Carter, confirmed yesterday warning signs would be up by Christmas Day and there may be rescue equipment installed in future.

John spoke of the early years of their courtship in Christchurch and their subsequent marriage, before they moved to Auckland in 1980.

Having two kids and shift work to contend with put great pressure on the couple as they scrimped and saved for a house.

"We were living from payday to payday," John said.

"Judy was magnificent."

Judith's brother Peter Ross and Vanessa spoke of her immense pride which stretched to her appearance, her garden and her kitchen.

While John and Vanessa took on the burdensome task of packing Judith's clothes after her death, Vanessa said they could not help but smile at the fact she had brought a pair of shoes for every outfit and occasion.

Police commissioner Peter Marshall did not know Judith but said police owed her a debt of gratitude.

"You didn't reach the rank of chief inspector or serve in the police force for 47 years without the love and support of a truly remarkable woman. Judy obviously had a huge part to play in your successes, positivity and energy in policing," he said.

All the speakers paid tribute to the efforts of Groves, whose wife Denise was in attendance.

His funeral will take place at the North Shore Memorial Park Crematorium Chapel, Albany, at 1pm tomorrow.


Auckland Now