A tribute to one of Whitianga’s true gentlemen

20 Jul 2021

“Everyone loved Raymond” could well have been the epitaph for one of Whitianga’s true gentlemen, Ray Hewlett, who passed away on 26 June, making Mercury Bay his home for 38 years.

Ray, who was 88, never married but according to his sister, Joan, he did have “one special love - this place, Whitianga”. 

Touching eulogies for Ray, who added so much to the town through his ceaseless volunteer work, were read at private ceremony for family and close friends at St Peter the Fisherman Anglican Church.

A public celebration of Ray’s life is planned for later in the year with a Country and Western hoedown at the Whitianga Bike Park. “I think he would like that,” said his brother, Noel, who managed the Bike Park for a number of years, with Ray doing a lot of the work. “He was a great country music fan, so there was country-themed music at his service. He would have been tapping his feet to the music.

“Now we are planning something more public to acknowledge his many contributions to the town.

The bike park features a “Hewlett Garden” to mark the brothers’ work in developing the facility. It includes a plaque which reads, “If you live without making a difference, what difference does it make that you lived?”

“Those words epitomize the way Ray lived his life,” said Noel. “Everyone who knew him knew him as a likeable chap who never criticised anyone - just a nice guy, who didn’t have an enemy in the world. In all my life, I never heard him say a bad word about anyone.”

Noel and his wife, Nicky, opened the first major supermarket in Whitianga in the block in Albert Street where Subway is now, with Ray working in the delicatessen and frozen food areas. When the couple relocated an old gold miner’s cottage from Kuaotunu (the little red building behind Subway in Coghill Street), Ray, an ex-builder, developed it into an ice-cream parlour.

Noel said that Ray’s building talents were in high demand around Whitianga. “He was so generous with his time and energy, and being an ex-builder, he became known as the best handyman in town.”

Ray was a member of the Whitianga Lions, participating in many of their projects. He worked with Noel developing the Bike Park, putting in many hundreds of hours draining the swamp and clearing wasteland, and when any work needed doing for the community - such as making a Christmas wishing-well - Ray was the person everyone went to. “He did lots of jobs around town,” said Noel. “He would just do anything for the community.”

Ray helped establish the town’s Country Music Club, and enjoyed playing the guitar and singing. He also performed at the Tuesday Club drama group where he not only appeared in productions, but also had a number of back-stage roles. “He was the main man with the Tuesday Club for making props and building things but he was also a player in the repertory company,” said Noel. “He acted on the stage, as did my wife and I. It was a good time with many happy memories.”

Ray was also a member of the Mercury Bay Golf Club, but while most members preferred to be out on the course or having a drink at the 19th hole, Ray was often out with other hardy souls maintaining the grounds and cleaning out the streams. “Anything he joined, he was a worker and not a talker,” said Noel.

Originally from Otorohanga, Ray was initially a farmer, spending some time in Australia, later turning his talents to building and eventually finding his true home in Whitianga. “I think the Whitianga experience really fulfilled his life,” said Noel. “He absolutely loved it here.”

Sadly, Ray suffered a stroke in 2018 and spent his remaining days in Whitianga Continuing Care, which the family have praised for the attention bestowed on Ray.

Pictured: Beloved Whitianga resident, Ray Hewlett, passed away on 26 June. He was 88 years old.