Betty Perkins remembered

At a St Peter’s Hall memorial service in June 2024, Leo Watson, a former resident of Paekākāriki, fondly remembers Betty Ann Perkins (1940 – 2024) and her many endeavours, both in Paekākāriki and further afield.

E te whaea, e te poutokomanawa o te hapori nei, haere atu rā. E te whanau pani, kei te mihi , kei te mihi. E te hau kāinga, koutou o Ngāti Haumia e tautoko ana i te poroporoāki nei, tēnā koutou. Tēnā tātau katoa. 

Betty, we greet you, we salute you, we celebrate you, and today we will bid you farewell. May you rest in peace. 

We acknowledge your family, who are with us today particularly your children Andrew, Natasha, and Danny and his wife Julie, and your grandchildren that you loved so very much, Ishmael, Kaitlin, Angus and Hamish. We have in our hearts your children who left you far too early, we acknowledge Leisa, Simon and Jane. And we smile when we think of your darling and good mate John, with whom you are again united in peace. 

We also acknowledge Betty’s own family, the Lambert and Duyvelshoff families, and the wider Perkins and Smith family. 

To all those here today, whether the many of whom have travelled long distances to share in this celebration, or many of whom are part of the fabric of this Paekakariki community, welcome, and on behalf of the family, thank you for being here, thank you for your love and support.

My name is Leo Watson, and with my wife Phillippa and our children, we spent nearly 17 years living in Paekākāriki and our lives seemed to intersect at a number of different points with the lives of the Perkins family. We’ve been away for 10 years now, but it is a privilege to be able to return here, see familiar faces and friends, and contribute to this celebration of Betty’s life. 

Some housekeeping matters as we start. Please take the time now to re-check your cellphone and turn it off. I assure you that if it rings, you don’t want to incur the wrath of Betty Perkins. If you don’t know how to turn it off, ask the person closest to you who was born this century. 

This beautiful St Peter’s Hall will be familiar to most of you, but the toilets are at the back, and there are two exits in the event of an emergency. The farming equipment outside St Peter’s Hall is a gift from the Smith and Perkins families, farming here since 1859. 

Betty was born on the 6th of April 1940, in Auckland to Florence and Alan Lambert. Her mother Florence was of Dutch descent and spent some time in the Australian outback before Betty was born. Alan was Jewish. He was a hotelier at the Morrison’s Bush Hotel in Wairarapa. He was a bookie, and a keen union man. Betty was one of seven children, she was the third eldest daughter born, followed by four brothers.

Betty attended Wairarapa College in the late 1950s, got her University Education and headed to Wellington Teacher’s College, becoming certified as a primary school teacher in 1962. She was multi-talented, involved at various times in her life in gymnastics, as school diving champion, school prefect, violin, arts and craft, acting, screen printing, pottery and photography and so much more. 

Photo: Natasha Perkins

She married Mr John Perkins in 1961 and in her own words in her CV she says this: 

The next 25 years or so were spent as farmer’s wife, chief cook and car driver while raising my family…”. And Betty’s CV lists a number of part-time and teacher relieving jobs including – Paraparaumu Village School, the Crossways community creche, the Playcentre, Ōtaki Health Camp, Mount Cook School and others. 

By the time John and Betty moved to the station at Middle Run, Paekākāriki in 1970, they had brought into the world six children. We will hear more about them from speakers today who will share stories. Betty became an invaluable and committed member of the Paekākāriki community, she will be remembered for tireless hours teaching small kids swimming as they prepared to rise through the ranks of the Surf Club, she was the first woman president of the Paekākāriki Parent Teachers Association, she was a standing committee member of the Kapiti Borough Council for 13 years, and served on the Paekākāriki Community Board. She was inter-club captain for the tennis team. She is so famous that she will forever be on Google Maps. That’s right, Betty Perkins Way was named in her honour. 

Betty cutting the ribbon at the opening of Betty Perkins Way. Photo: Xplore Paekākāriki

The Watson whānau remember Betty as a kind and loving grandmother, she was always wrapping her mokopuna in her arms. She wore her lavalava on the beach like it was 1969. Betty was a fierce advocate for Paekākāriki. She was a competitor. She was forthright. In fact, she would probably correct me with that and say “not forth-right, but first-right”. In my capacity as legal advisor to the family through some very turbulent times with the Transport Agency, I remember she would sit, listen carefully and then firmly state her case with conviction and wisdom. 

Betty was patient, interested in others, As Phillippa reminds me, when visiting Betty with our 3 year old yabber-mouth son, Betty and little Poutama would talk and talk, he was fascinated with motorbikes, and she promised to buy him one, and told him he had to pick her up and take her for a ride. Betty loved going to Porirua pools with Natasha, who would lean Betty back into the warm water with Betty dramatically calling out “I’m drowning! I’m drowning!” Betty loved drama, and Betty loved eating cakes. 

In 2008, Betty was diagnosed with dementia and lived at home with John for two years before the medical profession said it was time for full-time care. So she moved to Seven Oaks retirement home in Kāpiti. In 2012. With the family forced off their farm to make way for Transmission Gully, John moved to Levin and Betty moved just down the road from him to the Masonic Retirement home. Betty was to stay 12 years at Masonic (John passed in 2018) with John visiting her nearly every day. She read a lot. She slept a lot. She had regular trips to Hokio or Waitārere Beach, and Waipunahau (Lake Horowhenua) aka the duck pond – Betty loved the ducks and the birds there. 

The family make special mention of the loving staff at Masonic, and they are so grateful for the excellent care she received, and the support of her rest home family. I can feel her energy reverberating in this hall. 

E te whaea, moe mai, moe mai rā. 

The last words go to her daughter, Natasha, who assisted with this overview of Betty’s life and who has played an incredibly important and supportive role for Betty, particularly as her physical and mental health declined. Natasha did not want to speak today, but I have asked her to tell you about this special last moment when Betty left us:

On Tuesday, Betty was feeling a little out of sorts and had a honey drink to raise her blood sugar level.The nurse reported that the last thing she said was “You need to hurry up and get me ready as I am going marry my husband today." So it’s nice to think of Betty in her sky garden with John, probably renewing their vows, and with three of her children: Liesa aged 2 flower-girl, Jane 49 - matron of honour, and Simon, the best man!