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Goodbye Joanie

1 Jun 2013

The eulogy delivered by David for his mother Joan Ellis at St Mark’s Church, Remuera, Auckland on Friday 31 May 2013:

Special family and friends, today we mourn the loss of one of the world’s truly good people Joan Stewart Ellis – Joanie – our wonderful and much loved mother, mother in law, grandmother, sister, aunt and friend.

As a family, we feel proud to remember and share some of our family’s most special and treasured memories of Joan, who meant the world to us.  Thank you for joining us as we celebrate the loving and vibrant woman Joanie was.

Born in Auckland, the second of Athol and Gladys Wells’ three children, Joanie was brought up in a truly loving home in Panmure as her younger sister Judy can attest.  The family lived on four acres on King’s Road right on the Tamaki River.  Joanie would often tell stories of a blissful childhood full of adventure.   She and her late brother Tom would spend hours playing cricket on the front lawn. Her first horse was called Toni and Joanie would ride from Panmure to Bethell’s Beach for her school holidays.   

Athol Wells’ pride and joy was his 42 foot launch that he called “The Joan” in honour of mum – they loved that boat and many memorable summers’ weekends were spent boating.  The family’s other home at Waiheke played a huge role in Joanie’s early life with plenty of swimming, diving and fishing. She was known to often swim from Wells Bay to Ponui and back – what a girl she was!

Those early years undoubtedly forged Joanie’s lifelong love of sport, as both participant and keen observer.

Joanie’s school days were to influence the rest of her life.  Attending St Cuthbert’s College from the age of five, she excelled at school and was honoured in her final year as Head Girl. Joanie looked back on memory filled school days that saw her captain of not only the school cricket team but also the netball and tennis teams as well.  The school’s motto is “By love serve” – and Joanie lived her entire life by this. 

After leaving school to become a kindergarten teacher, Joan took the huge step at that time of travelling to London at the tender age of 21.  Her brother Tom was studying at Cambridge University and she was determined to see the world.    

In those days, the London bound ships sailed from Wellington and at that time, our father was working for the family’s company and had become a good family friend.  So he was entrusted with the job of driving Joanie from Auckland to Wellington.   We think the spark developed on that long trip to the capital.  When Joanie returned to New Zealand two and a half years later, JDO didn’t waste time and romance blossomed.  However family legend has it that she broke a few hearts on the way including that of Willie who followed her out to NZ from the UK but JDO by that stage had won the fair maiden’s heart.

They married in 1952 and had the happiest marriage imaginable.  I can honestly say that in over 50 years of marriage I never once heard them argue – they simply adored each other.  It was a union of true love, respect and devotion.

A year after their marriage, the first of Joanie’s four children – yours truly – was born.  Relatively quickly followed by Sue, Rick and then Sandy – four children like us in seven and a half years kept Joanie’s hands full!   

I need to tell one of Joanie’s favourite jokes here – when I was about seven, this day Mum and Dad decided to tell me my youngest sibling was on the way.  I apparently was not impressed – another crying baby in the house.  Dad had always taken me every Saturday to rugby, usually Eden Park, to see Auckland or the All Blacks play and my star player was Mac Herewini.  So I said to my parent that if it was a girl it should be called Grlie and if it was a boy, it should be called Johnny but if it was a Maori, I wanted it called Herewini!

We lived in St Heliers until I was 10 when Mum and Dad bought two acres in Acmena Lane in Pakuranga which was our family home for 35 years.  It was a happy home – full of love, encouragement, support and laughter.  Joanie loved her garden and it was spectacular – anything she was passionate about she would blossom, people or plants.  Acmena Lane also had a tennis court which she loved and every Tuesday and Friday she had a standing date – with her golf clubs at Middlemore. 

In between being an amazing wife and mother she managed to be the Auckland Golf Club Ladies’ Champion and also the Auckland Ladies’ Tennis Champion – clearly a talent which has been passed on to the next generation.  Yet every weekend she would watch her children play sport and we had the most supportive mum in the world bar none.    

There was nothing Joanie could not do – she even managed to fit in the Presidency of the Laura Fergusson Trust during those busy years. Her generosity with her time, her energy and her advice provided invaluable support to a remarkable number of people.

If she was an amazing mother she certainly was the best wife our father could have had – her staunch support was the lynchpin of JDO’s vast community leadership – every role he undertook saw her by his side.  In fact when JDO was Rotary District Governor he was making up to two or three speeches every week and you know who had a major hand to play in that – It was a rare honour when both Joanie and JDO were honoured with a Paul Harris Fellowship, a rare accolade for the non Rotarian Joanie was.   

Joanie used to love coming with Dad to stay at Te Akau Stud and in the early days were there most weekends as I kept a cottage for them on the farm.  Joanie worked hard helping with everything from, yes, grubbing those infamous thistles to helping JDO light his equally as infamous fires!  This period saw the arrival of grandchildren and all of Joanie’s grandchildren were the great apples of her eye.

Joanna, Sarah and Davey used to get so excited when Joanie came to stay at the farm as she always bought small gifts with her and it wasn’t uncommon to see the trio walking up to the cottage in their PJs to claim their presents!  She also loved to watch them all compete at pony club events at the Te Akau Sports’ complex.

GD and Sacha Jones can’t be here today but I want to pay special respect to them – Joanie absolutely lived to watch you both play tennis, it was an enormous part of her life and her pride knew no bounds.  Charles too, your flying prowess and your golf was a source of great delight for Joanie.  When I married Karyn and adopted her two daughters Lydia and Julia-Rose, the warmth of Joanie’s welcome is something they often speak of. Even before she met them, she wrote to them saying how excited she was about getting to know her new grandchildren and welcoming them to the family. Treasured words. She also thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Lucy, Davey’s fiancée.

In know too that my wife Karyn and Sue’s husband Mel and Sandy’s wife Angel all speak of Joanie as being the world’s best mother in law.  She was greatly loved and respected by them too.

Losing JDO four years ago was very hard for Joanie. Life was never the same without her soul mate by her side, she missed him enormously.  There was a massive gap in her life but she filled her time with family, her faith, friends, bridge and the gym – still working with a personal trainer until her debilitating strokes late last year.

For the last five months we have had to watch our beautiful Joan slip away from us, a shadow of her former self but with a heart still as big as Texas.  We are a close family and in recent days we were able to spend precious time with Joanie.  Not living in Auckland has been tough and I want to pay particular tribute to my sister Sue and brothers Rick and Sandy who were her constant companions, Sue staying with Joanie 24 hours a day until she passed away.  Her three overseas grandchildren GD, Sach and Lydia called and spoke to her this week and although she was unable to communicate with us she knew we were there as we talked to her, held her and loved her.

I honestly do not know how we can adequately describe our mother with words. She saw the good in everything and everyone and encouraged others to do the same. She was a true role model – an incredible example to us all.  Joanie had the kindest heart of anyone I know.  She was a generous, loving, supportive and unselfish woman who always put her family and friends before herself.  She was charitable, giving, considerate and kind.  Our mother cared deeply for everyone she knew, whether you were her family or friend

Her passing does not leave us empty because in her lifetime, she filled us with joy and love. She lived a long and happy life – a life she so richly deserved. She touched the lives of so many people and even though she is gone, her memory will live on in all of our memories and hearts forever.  We honour your life and are truly blessed to have had you in ours.

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