Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 29, October 1985

1888 - 1984

The following eulogy was delivered by Mr. John Kelly at the funeral service held in St. John's Anglican Church, Waihi, in November 1984. (Abridged)

Florence Kelly was a remarkable woman. She was born Florence Riddell in 1888, the second in a family of three. Being neither the first-born favourite daughter, nor the last-born doted-on only son, she was obliged from her childhood to carve her own way by dint of her own qualities and her own resolution. And, she was at all times a woman who knew her own mind. Even in that age when women were not supposed to have minds of their own. She also had red hair, though I would defy you to have called it in her presence anything other than auburn.

In 1914 she met one John Kelly, newly come to England from the hills of County Donegal, Ireland. To the dismay of her father, who was a Scot and a regular soldier in the Inniskilling Fusiliers. "I would sooner," he said to his second daughter, "I would sooner see you dead at my feet than married to an Irishman." She married her Irishman in 1915, he joined the army, and they were separated for the next four years. Many the story she told of those years, of her work in the War Office, of the Zeppelin raids over London.

Then the war ended, and our father returned to his bride, and to his profession of pharmacy. But within a few years, at the urging of his young sister, Martha, already married to a N.Z. farmer, he decided to emigrate. Our mother, with three infant children, found herself transported from the civilized suburbs of London to the gorse-infested, rabbit-ridden wilderness of a depression farm in the heart of the King Country, and from there in various shifts from farm to farm until the family settled on the Waihi Plains in 1934.

Life for a woman on a farm in those days must have meant no electricity, kerosene lamps, wood stoves, gumboots squelching through mud, sick animals, collapsed prices, no transport save eventually a horse and gig, and later a bicycle, handmilking in draughty sheds - all this for a woman fresh from life in London. But through it all, as through the whole of her 96 years, Florence Kelly remained indomitable. She was, I think, the most steadily courageous person I have ever known.

She lived through the reigns of seven monarchs - from Victoria to Elizabeth II. She saw her menfolk go off to two world wars. In the last years of her life she suffered a great deal of pain - several fractures, an amputation, a kidney operation that would have been serious for anyone half her age. If her spirit ever quailed she kept that to herself. She remained undaunted. She never just lay down and gave up. I saw our mother cry only once - when she was in an Auckland hospital undergoing a hip operation, and I had to take her the news that our father had died in Waihi, in her absence. She cried then because she had not been at his side when he needed her - and had not been there to say goodbye to him.

Our mother was also what is termed "a character". A "character", I have determined, is anyone over the age of 75 who retains her acuity of intellect, her independence of thought, and her nimbleness (and sometimes sharpness) of tongue. Florence Kelly never lost these qualities.

She was, as the Irish say, a woman to step around. I used thoroughly to enjoy the sight of Ministers of the Crown hastily trying to summon arguments to counter her catechisms, tradesmen desperately defending themselves against her one-woman consumer council.

She loved the cut and thrust of argument with an edge to it. And she was very good at it. Together with a habit of dead-pan, ironic, teasing humour that was sometimes intimidating to those who did not know her well. To the end of her days she was always able to respond to badinage in kind.

She was born to be a grandmother. She had enormous affection for all small children, especially her own grandchildren. And they responded in kind. She was also one of the great story-telling entertainers of my acquaintance. Some of my most vivid memories are of the tales she would tell us as children over the ironing-board or among the preserving pans, of her life as a girl in England. She had a heart big enough to hug the world. Animals were drawn to her as children were. She loved them all, and they responded.

But her interests and activities were not solely family affairs. Many of you will know of the long service she gave to the community - a service that lasted indeed until she became immobilised - her 25 years as Office-bearer in the Women's Division of Federated Farmers, for which she was honoured by a national life-membership; her service to the Women's Section of the R.S.A. - another life-membership; her work for the Church, for School Committees, for the Red Cross during the war. She never adopted a cause to which she gave less than whole-hearted support - and she adopted all causes that served people.

Also, she was an unwavering Christian in a world where too often no foundations seem secure. Truly her kind, are the great-hearted, the salt of the earth.

She was a woman whose like we do not see often, and whose equal I do not expect ever to see again. A woman who lived for others, but who retained her own independence of spirit. A woman who never felt sorry for herself, who never gave up, whose example inspired her family. A woman who never doubted God's purposes. May she rest now in the peace she has so richly deserved.