Local Identity With A Proud Family Heritage

Gerry Hill is well known in Ponsonby and following his battle with Motor Nuron Disease (MND) he passed away at 10.05am yesterday. This article was first published in February 2017. Gerry's face is very well known in our 'hood and he has always loved being with his dogs, Laki, Hemi, and more recently Kuini in our ‘hood’ for more than 20 years.

He is the son of the famous, or notorious, depending on your political point of view, Labour unionist leader, Toby Hill.

Gerry Hill grew up in Wellington and he can tell great stories about the colourful visitors to his childhood home in Wadestown. Father Toby was a Scotsman, as were many of our early unionists. He was born in Blantyre in 1915, and died in Wellington in 1977 when Gerry was just 21 years old.

Toby was a staunch socialist. He always insisted he was never a communist. He had read the famous “The Ragged-trousered Philanthropist” at age 12, had strong Christian beliefs and never forgot the grinding poverty of his childhood –it moulded his thinking for the rest of his life. By 1942, at 26 years of age, Toby Hill was elected National Secretary of the NZ Waterfront Workers Union. In 1948 the Wharfies opposed the All Blacks touring South Africa with whites only.

Gerry remembers the associates of his father who regularly visited their home-people like Jock Barnes, Ken Douglas, the Bollinger brothers, Pat Kelly, a young Dave Morgan, Con Devit, just to name a few. He was interested in “the human condition”, Gerry told us. People could redeem themselves.

Their home at 20 Cecil Rd was a meeting place where everyone was welcome ( except poet Denis Glover, if he was fired up by liquor, to which Gerry’s mum Flora, objected.) Flora would put the jug on and a cup of tea was soon ready. One such visitor was the mailman whose run ended at the Hill house. His name-James K Baxter.

Gerry Hill tells us his was a cultural home. His parents, Flora and Toby, were good dancers. They didn’t have much money, but they had a rich life, colourful, inhabited by thinkers, mostly self-educated. They loved music, poetry and humour. This helped to overcome what many thought a “dull grey country”.

Keith Holyoake came around to check on Toby after his heart attack in the 60s. After coming north to Auckland in 1973, Gerry joined the merchant navy in 1974 and saw the world. He developed an interest in food and cooking, and would bring home exotic and unusual ingredients to try on his friends.

Gerry sees society today as freer than when he was growing up—homosexual law reform, abortions available when needed—but not so kind as it was. “We need a society where schools are good, the health system works for all, and people are looked after in their old age, “he told Ponsonby News.

Too many young people have a “huge sense of entitlement”, and people don’t look out for each other like they used to do.

Gerry Hill names Seddon, Vogel, Coates, Savage, and Fraser among his ‘best’ politicians, but has a special soft spot for Norman Eric Kirk. Kirk, says Gerry, came closest to articulating “ Nationhood”.

One of Gerry’s proudest achievements was his organisation of Operation Hope. He saw on TV the desperate plight of people on the Horn of Africa-drought and millions of deaths-and resolved to do something about it. He visited his old family friend, Sonia Davies, Labour MP, who got hold of Chris Laidlaw, recently appointed Lange’s ‘man in Africa’. The upshot was a Lange supported and assisted mission in the MV Ngahere, laden with food, infrastructure material and farming equipment to Africa in 1985.Gerry Hill and friends had raised 3.4M, acquired cigarettes, beer and cases of wine with the help of Tim Shadbolt, for the crew on the three month voyage. This was the same human catastrophe that moved Bob Geldof to set up Live Aid.

“I could have stood for parliament”, Gerry told us, “ and I do regret that the political groups I have supported financially over the years have never wanted to select me for local government politics here in Auckland.”

Still, Gerry Hill has made his mark on local issues, including being a long time supporter of parks, and a severe critic of cuts to the music in parks programme, but sadly, in his early 60s, Gerry has been struck down with progressive multiple sclerosis. He has expert professional help, and is doing everything he can to keep fit with hydrotherapy, physio, and never2old gym work. He’s riding with the punches, he told us, not looking for sympathy. He is full of praise for Sally’s care.

Gerry Hill is a good man, who cares about others. He is sometimes prone to pushing too hard for his causes, but if he ruffles political feathers he’s probably making them think.

We know readers will want to thank Gerry Hill for his lifetime of service to his community and country, and to wish him well with his fight with MND. (JOHN ELLIOTT)

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