Lee Hatherley — a Tribute

My eyes are shining too

Lee Hatherly – 1938-2010

By Gilbert Haisman

The streets of Paekakariki will never feel the same again.

Who else but Lee could ride a mobility scooter down Wellington Road with two dishmoppy dogs on board, and somehow give her slow progress the magic of a Mardis Gras, the good cheer of a Christmas parade, and that sense of Kiwi rightness we feel in a culture in which Billy T James is our Gandhi, the conservative Invercargill keeps re-electing a one-time radical street-theatre mayor, and our favourite family entertainers are much-loved lesbian twins.

Some say Lee was at her best with the audiences she loved, and who loved her, as they rolled in the aisles.  I disagree.   Lee was even better in an audience.  All she had to do was enter St Peter’s looking radiantly appreciative and so delighted to see everybody, and the success of any show was assured.

‘A catalyst for others’

More importantly, Lee was a catalyst for success in the lives of many others.   A goodly number of luminaries from the worlds of theatre, broadcasting, poetry and comedy spoke at her funeral. “I first met Lee when …” they would start, and we soon understood that whatever you really wanted to do, Lee’s endorsement would make it seem an even better thing to do than you dared hope.

And so the stories rolled, the broadcasting was recalled, songs were sung, and the comedy clips on Powerpoint brought back Hen’s Teeth, the legendary women’s comedy troupe she shepherded through 13 years of performance.  Most moving of all, her daughters Melinda and Katrina gave us snatches of song, and tiny details of domestic life and family celebrations that revealed a magical love.

‘Encore!’as coffin passed

The funeral ended, fittingly for a performer, with a standing ovation as the pall-bearers moved down the aisle.  And then, as the bravos became fewer and the real grief welled up, a bloke in the audience, who I love to imagine was channelling the laughter of Lee herself, created a sublime moment: “Encore!” he called.  If only, if only, if only there could be one.

The sense of audience did not define Lee Hatherly.  Higher, deeper, wider and more loving than that catalytic quality was a depth of spirit that made us think of her faults as no more than foibles at which to smile.

That spirit is apparent in this poem she wrote for her late friend Frano, who also suffered cancer.  The words are a mirror of their author, a person who is irreplaceable but will, in more than one of the many possible senses of that well-worn phrase, always be with us.


My Eyes Are Shining Too

For Frano

Of course we didn’t know it would be like this

walking the same road

you just a little ahead

watching the sun go down in Paekakariki

Is that Essiac tea you’re drinking?

Lovely here isn’t it …

a good place to live

good place to be

But the trees are very dark

and sometimes

when the sea’s roar is unrelenting

and the flax leaves lash and moan against my windows

I feel cold, afraid

I am alone.

Then I look across and see you

the Artist appearing as a floral meadow in her garden

as a Table glowing with friendship and delectable food in her kitchen

or a Poem with a magic charm to make children’s eyes shine

here, and far away.


I see you and I am warmed, nourished.

My eyes are shining too.

Leone Hatherly

(September 2011)


Thank you Gilbert for your lovely tribute to Lee. i really wish I could have been there to share some stories at the celebration of her life, but, alas, Canada is a long way away. My boys and I had many a lovely walk with Lee and the dogs. She had an irrepressible spirit that will live with us always. Sending aroha across the Pacific to Paeakakariki and everyone at this sad time – David, Deb, Tahi and Sampson.

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