Yesterday Lucia and I attended the funeral service for a dear friend, Barbara Guthrey, who died the week before (May 24th) just after finishing her turn (with her long-time dance partner Chris) for Montgomery’s Rant, the last dance of the Kaitaia Scottish Country Dance club’s weekly evening of dancing. It was a surreal experience for us all. I’d just had dinner that evening with Barbara, as I’d had many Tuesdays recently before dancing.

Barbara was in her 80th year. Today is my only day away from the library this week, so I’m reluctant to sit here for long at the computer. I’d rather be outside soaking up some of June’s healing sun. As our friend Dave shared at the service (he was part of the hiking group Barbara co-founded almost twenty years before) Barbara never owned a television, a computer, a cell phone or an answering machine. When asked why she didn’t have a TV, she’d respond: ‘I wouldn’t have time to watch.’ She was active in many clubs and organisations: from embroidery to dance to hiking to Forest and Bird. She was a tremendous inspiration to me; she was a woman of unbounded energy, focus and optimism. She will be missed and yet she will endure in the shining example of living she has provided. I shared a few words at her service, which I’ve copied below.

Barbara Guthrey died the way she lived, doing what she loved, squeezing enjoyment from each moment, finishing the last dance.

I know there are many people here in this room who have known Barbara for longer than me, so I’m going to keep this brief. For the past few months, after work at the library on a Tuesday, I’ve gone to Barbara’s home to share a meal with this lovely lady before going on to dancing together. She always made the supreme effort to provide a multi-course delicious feast for someone like me with my slightly unusual dietary leanings. Last Tuesday night, unbeknownst to me, was to be our last supper; Last Tuesday night, unbeknownst to all of us, was to be our last dance with Barbara.

I got to know Barbara on these Tuesdays together. Quite frankly, she inspired me. When she was recently diagnosed with heart disease, she took the necessary medication, hardly skipped a beat (pun fully intended) and got on with it. It was the only way she knew how to live.

Rangiputa Beach

On the weekend before she died, she could be found at her son’s Rangiputa property, putting in two five hour days, freeing plantings of tobacco weed and wattle seedlings. She even managed a swim in the sea and attended the Mangonui Ceili on the Saturday night. Barbara was known to swim year round and was surprised during a recent walking tour in Italy when no one else on the tour joined her for a dip in a frigid mountain lake.

A friend, inspiration and servant to many, Barbara belonged to Servas, hosting visitors from many nations. There was always space at her table and a bed for the weary in her spare room. I know. I stayed more than once myself. She also hosted Forest and Bird members at her home and visited friends regularly who benefited from her care and her company.

A lover of the environment and the nature of New Zealand, she tended her delightful jungle of a garden, helped organise her walking group, recycled, composted, bandied terms like carbon footprint with élan. She had no television or computer. When she wasn’t walking (at full speed, I might add), dancing or helping someone else, she could be found ensconced in her favourite chair, her feline friend Rollie at her feet or on her lap, the gentle strains of the National concert station wafting through the room.

Barbara Guthrey was one of life’s unforgettable characters, the kind I read about in Readers Digest when growing up. She is and will be missed by many, forgotten by no one who has come to know her.

I wonder what she would say if she could speak from the other side: live each day to the fullest, find ways to serve; fulfil your dreams; don’t miss the last dance.


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Radio host, inspirational speaker and health educator John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives and the recently released Beyond the Search, books to lift the spirit and touch the heart. See


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