Many Riverton mourners could have been excused for wondering if a part of their seaside settlement itself had died when one of its long-standing identities, Tom White, died last month, aged 95.
The man himself seemed indestructible, being possessed of immense strength and moral fibre. He spent his entire life in Riverton, apart from serving the 20th Battalion of the Second NZEF Armoured Regiment in the Middle East and Northern Italy (1941-1945) during WWII.
He invariably welcomed the challenge of physical work and local body government and was a loved patriarch of a widely known and respected Catholic family that embraced 10 children, 29 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren.
His devotion to the St Columba's Catholic Church, the Riverton Racing Club (life member), the Riverton Borough Council (former chairman) and the Riverton RSA (president) reflected his varied interests that endeared him to many.
A productive life in business as a roading construction contractor and farmer near Wakapatu added to his repertoire as a man of many parts, blessed with common sense and clearly defined priorities, one well equipped to serve his community so widely and effectively.
Thomas Samuel Kitchener White was a big man in many ways, a no-nonsense character with a seemingly insatiable appetite for hard work and one who etched an indelible reputation for sound advice and good cheer that many benefited from.
More than anything else, he and his wife Violet (nee Eade), who died five years ago, were justifiably proud of their children who often worked effectively together “like peas in a pod" in Mr White's own words.
Sincere and good humoured, forever an admirer of anything wholesome and a fighter for anything that needed to be put right, he invariably projected himself in a presentable manner and commanded considerable respect within the close-knit Riverton community that his big family is an integral part of.
Mr White often proudly reminded visitors that his beloved Riverton was New Zealand's second-oldest settlement behind Russell in the Bay of Islands.
Born in Riverton, he was the fourth child of Tom and Winifred White and first attended school at nearby Ermedale where his parents farmed and later at Riverton Convent. He and his brother Johnny rode horses to school and later raced thoroughbreds with marked success.
Johnny raced the fine winner McGregor and won the prestigious Winter Cup at Riccarton with Noble River. Tom won 13 races with Dig In, trained at Riverton by the late Bill Hillis. The Simper Lodge standout won the Champagne Stakes and James Hazlett Stakes at Wingatui.
Rob Fielder's commentary of the Hazlett Stakes triumph was played graveside at Mr White's burial at the Riverton cemetery.
Mr White pulled no punches when he told racing journalists after his Champagne Stakes win that he named his horse after a wartime need in the desert to “dig in under fire, otherwise a man would get his bloody head blown off".
He later became a committeeman and long-serving vice president of the Riverton Racing Club, which bestowed life membership on him. His son Tom is the current president of the historic club.
Mr White's early working life often involved shovelling gravel with his father onto a dray. The strong and fit men could shovel three cubic yards onto the dray in seven minutes according to credible Riverton old-timers.
The purchase after the war of a Canadian V8 truck was the springboard to developing a well-equipped contracting business that included crushers, loaders, trucks and excavators.
He took great pride in the part he played with good friend and project manager Dave Davenport in essential development of the Manapouri power project, crushing gravel for the Wilmot Pass Rd and attending to upkeep of equipment. He also employed those mechanical qualities on wartime vehicles.
Mr White was the first Rivertonian to have television in his home. The family erected a grandstand in the lounge to cater for close friends and family when rugby tests were being screened.
In addition to his busy business life, he gave much back to the community, becoming chairman of the Riverton Borough Council at a time when Riverton was declined building permits because of deficiencies in water and sewerage services. He pushed hard to rectify those anomalies and Riverton soon prospered accordingly.
A highlight of his civic life was meeting and hosting the then Governor General Sir Paul Reeves at the re-enactment of the Riverton Sesquicentennial.
Many at his funeral reflected on his meaningful belief in the Catholic faith.
He served on all the St Columba's Church committees and for many years was the trusted caretaker who locked and opened its doors seven days a week.
It was so appropriate that his hugely attended funeral service was held there, a mere stone's throw from his Herbert St home.
- © Fairfax NZ News