YMCA pays tree-bute to mentor

20:10, Jul 23 2014
YMCA tree
LIT UP: An inner city tree has become a bright memorial to a ‘‘lady with the big heart’’.

Staff at YMCA South Canterbury have lit up the tree on the corner of Butler and Arthur streets, near their office, to honour former senior manager of education and training at the YMCA, Sandra McHaffie, 53, who died on Saturday from cancer.

The tree makeover was organised by staff to "brighten its little corner of the world, just as she shone into our lives and made it a brighter place". The idea to use the tree was because Mrs McHaffie had told staff: "We should take our lunch and sit down by the tree and enjoy that green space".

Sadly, they never got the chance to do so together. The Timaru District Council gave permission to go ahead with the lights, which will stay until the end of August.

With the help from some firefighters the tree was decorated on Friday, the day before she died. Mrs McHaffie was shown pictures of the tree "absolutely glowing".

She joined the YMCA in June 2010. She was due to resume work at the beginning of the year but was too ill to do so.

Respected by both staff and students, YMCA South and Mid Canterbury general manager Keith Shaw described her as the heart of the YMCA family.


She was like a mother or auntie for people at the YMCA, he said.

Students described her as an amazing and extraordinary woman and the best adult educator in New Zealand, a friend, a mentor, a crazy lady with a wicked sense of humour.

"A number of our students said she gave them hope and self belief, something they specifically learnt from her," Shaw said.

Mrs McHaffie was also respected outside the South and Mid Canterbury communities.

Operations head of department for YMCA New Plymouth, Eric Kneepkens, said the effect she had on the local YMCA staff, students and community and the YMCA nationally could not be measured.

"Sandra has inspired, touched and changed the lives of so many people," he said.

The Timaru Herald