Huge community funeral in Kāpiti honours couple ‘who made a difference’
By Alan Tristram
The Kāpiti Coast community put on its equivalent of a state funeral this weekend for two veteran Paekākāriki left-wingers who made a huge difference to their community.
Adrian(71) and Marei Webster(76) took their own lives – together – as Community Board chairman Adrian faced the last phase of terminal stomach cancer.
And so, nine days later, nearly 500 people from all parts of Kāpiti gathered at Southwards auditorium in Paraparaumu for a service led by Kāpiti’s mayor Jenny Rowan.
Shock waves after deaths
The sudden and unexpected deaths of such a devoted couple sent shock waves throughout the Coast, where the couple worked tirelessly for community causes.
In the wider sphere of national politics, both gave their time and energies for many decades to fighting causes like the opposition to America’s war in Vietnam and the anti-Springbok tour movement.
But the funeral was emphatically family orientated, with touching tributes from their many children and grandchildren (both had been married before) – and from other family members.
A cross-section of the community – from politicians like MP Kris Faafoi and local politicos to a remarkable, and vociferous, assortment of babies and young children – heard the life stories of two very different, but closely united, people.
The gathering heard how Marei Bollinger/Webster came to New Zealand with her highly-cultured Jewish family as a refugee from Nazi Germany just before the Second World War.Adrian came from solid Kiwi middle-class stock in Wellington.
Varied and interesting livesBefore they settled down together, both had led varied lives: Marei as a teacher and social worker, working with people from NZ’s under-class, including many Māori gang members; and Adrian pursuing a career as a trade unionist (he worked for the PSA for many years).
During this time, both helped to raise families with love, generosity and a commitment to caring for others – qualities which seven of the children summed up in their tributes.
Then, after the death of Marei’s second partner in the late 1980’s, Adrian and Marei met and became an inseparable couple.
They established a unique garden business, ‘Paradise Plants,’ at their home in Ames Street, Paekākāriki; and Adrian began a remarkable career in local body politics.
The 500 mourners were reminded how, in Adrian’s time as board chairman from 2004, Paekākāriki was transformed by a series of KCDC-funded projects like the Beach Road revamp and a renewed seawall and promenade.
Marei’s daughter Thomasin summed up Marei’s character as a generous and loving person when she stated: “Our home was a place where people always felt welcome and respected.”
And the Mayor encapsulated Adrian’s persona when she said he was a person who was ‘unpretentious and down-to earth, an extremely competent community board chairman’….and a loving person ‘who was frequently seen holding Marei’s hand at local concerts.’
Finally, the KCDC kaumatua Don Te Maipi uttered a Māori blessing and the two simple white coffins of Marei and Adrian received a traditional sprinkling of holy water.
Then everyone joined in the great anthem of oppressed humanity, ‘We Shall Overcome.’
And each verse began with lines epitomising the lives of Adrian and Marei:
‘We’ll walk hand in hand,’
‘We are not afraid,’ and
‘We shall live in peace.’