Richard Haukore David Earl Taratoa 14.02.1959 – 14.07.2021
Richard Taratoa was a familiar sight in Ōtaki, recognised in recent years for his almost daily forays around town on his mobility scooter.
As one of the Ōtaki Volunteer Fire Brigade’s longest-serving members – for more than 33 years – he was frequently at the station organising the brigade’s next social event or enjoying a drink with the mates who were part of the firefighting fraternity. Put simply, he loved being part of the brigade.
Richard was the youngest child of Hone and Rea Taratoa (nee Blackmore), the others being Henare, Carol, Norman, Peter, Raymond and Hinerau. The parents raised the first five of their children at Tainui Marae in a 1-2 bedroom cottage.
Hinerau says that with the support of Father Walls in 1953, the whānau were able to move into a 3-bedroom state house at 9 Matene Street.
“It was four and six years later that, as my brother Peter puts it, we, myself and Richard, ‘appeared’.”
They all grew up happily in Matene Street.
Richard attended Ōtaki School and Ōtaki College, and with a natural talent for sports, enjoyed all manner of activities including rugby, squash, swimming, softball and later bowls. He worked during the school holidays at Roydon’s Textiles when it was a major employer in the town. When he left college he took a full-time job there, becoming a qualified – and meticulous – cutter, and later had a management position.
He married local woman Janine Snowden in 1987. They had two children, Hoani, who also joined the fire brigade and is still an active member, and Renee.
The family stayed in Ōtaki, with Richard confiding that he never wanted to leave. It was where he had built many lasting friendships.
In the late 1990s, Richard had trouble with a fractured ankle that never seemed to come right. After nine operations in five years and several bone replacements – and after what Janine says was medical misadventure – his only option was to have the leg amputated below the knee.
The limited mobility meant the end of his working life, and his career as an active firefighter. He could easily have hung up his volunteer ﬁreﬁghter’s helmet, but he could think of nothing worse than also losing the camaraderie and team spirit that had been such a big part of his life. He stayed on, performing a valuable administrative role, including as brigade secretary.
In 2013, just three years after losing his leg, he was awarded the Gold Star recognising 25 years of service to the brigade.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said at the time. “I’ve had a lot of problems with the leg over the years and l thought pretty hard about quitting the brigade. But I got a lot of support to stay with it and now I’ve got the Gold Star. I’m proud of that.”
Until his death on July 14 due to a perforated ulcer, he remained a valuable member of the team, offering advice to younger members and attending regular training sessions.
Ōtaki ﬁre chief Ian King recognised that while Richard was no longer on active duty, he was still a crucial member of the crew.
“With his experience and dedication he was still a valuable member,” lan said. “He’s had it tough, but I think he gained a lot of strength from staying in the brigade. And to get a Gold Star was a great achievement. Since the brigade was established 103 years ago, he was the 19th of only 20 people to receive that honour.”
Richard was an organiser. He kept copious records in a notebook, ensuring he had things such as catering sorted for brigade functions, and travel and accommodation for events such as snooker tournaments and brigade competitions out of town.
In fact Richard and his long-time snooker partner, Donnie Watson, were due to play at the fire service national snooker tournament on the weekend after Richard died (see story front page).
Richard always recognised that none of his achievements would have been possible without the support of Janine, who had seen him rush out of the house many times – often in the middle of the night – to attend ﬁres, motor vehicle accidents and other incidents.
Donnie Watson and good mate Richard Taratoa had the national fire service snooker championship in their sights. Then Richard died suddenly on July 14, 10 days before the tournament. In stepped Donnie’s son, Blane. Before they left for the games in Hawera, Donnie’s dad, Don Sr, told Donnie: “You know what you have to do, don’t... Keep Reading