Kiwi MH17 victim died with her loving husband
NEIL REID AND RACHEL YOUNG
A Kiwi victim and her husband who were aboard shot-down Flight MH17 are being remembered as a loving couple who "did everything together" and gave back to the community.
Mary and Gerry Menke - who lived in the Victorian fishing village of Mallacoota, 514km east of Melbourne - were among the 298 passengers and crew who died when the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky by a missile over Ukraine on Friday.
The pair - understood to have had three adult children - were returning to Australia following their annual holiday to Europe.
They ran an innovative abalone pearl producing company, Mallacoota Abalone Pearls Australia.
Mary, who had family living in the South Island, including near Christchurch, also ran the local hairdresser and beauty salon with daughter, Anna.
The couple are being remembered for always giving back to the community.
Executive officer of Business and Tourism East Gippsland Jeanette Seignior has paid tribute to the couple in a statement.
Seignior said the achievements of the couple, who had lived Mallacoota for several years, were recognised by the community last year when MAPA Pearls picked up the Judge’s Special Award in the 2013 East Gippsland Business Awards.
The award followed years of hard work for Gerry Menke, an abalone diver with decades of experience.
“Gerry and Mary were a wonderful couple and were delighted with the win, which cemented in their minds that what had begun as Gerry’s hobby had turned into a unique and burgeoning business,” she said.
“But it was far more than that. The Menkes were committed to giving back to the community and this year had committed to sponsoring the business awards, which they felt had given them so much. We have been very grateful for their support and contribution. They will be greatly missed by their family, friends and all of those who have been lucky enough to work with them.”
This year the Menke family – several of whom work in the business – were preparing to take MAPA Pearls to the next level.
They had recently filmed a segment for the BBC program, Coast, which focused on the process of culturing abalone pearls, perfected by Gerry over many years.
They also were developing ways to increase pearl production to meet the demands of their jewellery sales.
A friend, Mark Touzeau, remembered Mary as a "lovely person" who "was always very chatty, talkative and easy to get along with. She was a lovely person. They were great people."
He said the Menkes had travelled to New Zealand earlier this year to spend time with her relatives.
The couple viewed Mallacoota, population 1000, as their dream home.
"They loved Mallacoota with its beautiful unspoilt beaches and nature walks... we used to talk [about it being] one of the nicest places on Earth," he said.
"They were both very fit for their age. They walked, they rode, swam and were very active. They basically did everything together."
Touzeau said the couple were highly respected in the tight-knit community. The fact they had died in such horrific circumstance would hit the village hard, he said.
"Who would think that two people from this township of Mallacoota would be [killed] over the skies of Ukraine," he said.
"As one of the headlines said it is just an 'unspeakable crime'. It is terrorism; here we are in a modern civilisation and there seems to be more conflict than ever."
- Sunday Star Times