Tributes to 'John the Baptist figure'

Last updated 00:00 22/08/2007
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON
REMEMBERED: friends and family farewelled Graeme White at a service in Hornby yesterday.

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Friends and family farewelled "modern-day John the Baptist figure" Graeme White at a service in Hornby yesterday.

White, 46, is thought to be dead after going missing in Lyttelton Harbour on August 11. He was attempting to swim from Quail Island to the mainland after a day planting trees with a conservation group.

His body has not been found.

Mourners at his memorial service yesterday heard how White's string of criminal convictions and seemingly eccentric lifestyle were a consequence of his religious beliefs.

White was known for living according to his interpretation of scripture and his deeply held beliefs about social justice.

He often dressed in a sackcloth as a protest against sweatshop labour and consumer culture, but garnered several convictions for indecent exposure as a result of this.

In 1998, his fervent anti-abortion stance saw him tunnel into an abortion clinic, and his pacifism was manifested in an attack on a statue of war hero Charles Upham in Amberley.

The front of the auditorium at Hornby Presbyterian Church was covered with "symbols of Graeme in the absence of his body": the bicycle he rode as a protest against oil and wars for oil, the adze he used to plant trees for conservation, and the guitar and trumpet he played at his church group.

Former Lyttelton priest Jim Consedine, a long-time friend of White, was master of ceremonies at the request of the family. Consedine and White were both part of the Catholic Worker movement.

Consedine said White was a "true Christian radical" whose disdain for money and status and his giving nature made him like a "modern-day John the Baptist figure". "He examined every facet of his life in light of the Gospel."

He was a strict vegetarian who opted for poverty and manual labour despite having a degree in engineering, he said.

He had worked in prison ministries, halfway houses and mental hospitals.

"The dispossessed knew they had a champion in Graeme."

In 2002, White became the second living person in New Zealand to donate a kidney to a stranger.

Wife Lynette White read a card White had given her for her birthday a few weeks ago. It said: "I am a watered garden in desert".

White's sister, Jane Boehm, said it was "interesting being his sister. His faith was the most important thing to him and the most misunderstood."

Consedine said God would welcome White into heaven saying: "Well done, good and faithful servant." White's reply whenever he was thanked for a selfless act was: "No worries".

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- The Press

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