Salute to humble battler

QUIET HERO: Brian Kennedy.
QUIET HERO: Brian Kennedy.

You may not know it, but our city lost a hero on Monday.

Brian Kennedy was not your traditional hero.

He was simply a hard-working Kiwi bloke who found the good in so much bad.

But sometimes it's the unassuming ones, those who don't consider themselves to be heroic, who are the most inspiring of them all.

When Brian's wife of 34 years was killed in the collapse of the CTV building, he took onboard the grief of 115 families and became their official spokesman.

He put aside his broken heart to front the television cameras, answer the impossible questions and challenge the authorities. Two years later, he was diagnosed with the incurable motor neuron disease.

He was a widower whose body was wasting away, but he still considered himself fortunate. He never lost his sense of humour.

Brian died on March 10, aged 67, and no doubt he faced death with a smile.

Christchurch should remember Brian Kennedy - our broken city should salute him. We should learn from the positive way he faced such great tragedy.

I first met Brian shortly after the February quake, a time of chaos and calamity for the victims' families.

He was wearing working boots and a high-vis vest when he invited me into his home.

He laughed at his dirty hands, cried at his loss, and was not ashamed to say that he was still waiting for his wife to come home.

Grief is personal, it lurks within the soul, and Brian was a private man, but he put his pain on display. I admired his raw honesty.

Early last month, in keeping with a tradition I began after 2011, I rang Brian to check in with him before the third anniversary of the quake.

He answered the phone with slurred speech and choked as he struggled to explain what was wrong.

He was suffering motor neurone disease and had three to five years to live, maybe less.

I pulled the phone away because I didn't want him to hear me cry.

"But, this can't be happening, you were so full of life," I said.

"I . . . still . . . am," he responded, slowly.

Three weeks ago, I drove out to the Sumner house Brian shared with his new partner, Tash Newton, to interview him.

The strong, independent man I once knew was gone.

He had lost 35kg, could no longer eat and could barely speak.

He shuffled towards me for a hug and smiled as he said, "recognise me now, Olivia?"

Never once in the interview did Brian complain about the hand he had been dealt.

The most frustrating part of his illness was not that it was stealing his future, he said, it was that he could no longer open a stubbie by himself.

If he ever needed to laugh, he would just take his shirt off and "do my Charles Atlas pose in the mirror - you'll never see anything worse in your life".

He considered himself lucky that his daughters, Karen and Megan, would have a chance to say goodbye to him, something they could never do with their mother.

He said he was lucky to have had two chances at love.

Brian and Tash were high-school sweethearts and after they both lost their long term spouses suddenly in 2011, they began dating again in late 2012.

They couple laughed like teenagers and Tash would finish off Brian's sentences when he struggled to enunciate the words.

Together, they told me about his bucket list.

He wanted to walk through the trees in Hokitika and play horrendously loud rock music. But, most importantly, he wanted to stay alive to meet his first grandchild, who is due in July.

Brian sat next to me on the couch and told me about his funeral. He didn't want a memorial - instead, he wanted his ashes to be blown out to sea in a decent westerly.

Brian said it was unlikely Tash would know what a decent westerly was, and he would have to teach her some day soon.

He just ran out of time.

The Press