Tuesday, 20 August 2019


A tribute to Irene Thompson, the “Whitianga Whittler”

By Meg Tatton-Brown

Irene Thompson, known as the “Whitianga Whittler” for her magnificent wooden carvings, has sadly passed away at Whitianga Continuing Care on Friday 9 November.

Irene was born in Rotorua in 1940 and later became a highly respected social worker in the Tauranga area. In 1983, she relocated to the Coromandel Peninsula where she has resided ever since. It’s on the Peninsula that she created her legacy as a highly sought-after wood carver.

Irene’s stunningly intricate carvings can be found all over New Zealand as well as America and Europe. Some of her best-known works is in Whitianga and include the beautiful Alice in Wonderland piece located in the Whitianga library, where 231 storybook characters are hidden in the design, and pieces at the Mercury Bay Rugby Club, the Mercury Bay Bowling Club and the Whitianga Fire Station.

Irene has carved the replica stern of Captain Cook’s ship, HM Bark Endeavour, in the Mercury Bay Museum. She even carved a pair of wooden boots for former American president Ronald Reagan’s desk in the White House and another 25 plus pairs for the Pentagon. Sir Michael Fay of America’s Cup fame also owns a pair of boots and other pieces of Irene in his home on Great Mercury Island and Irene carved a Lion New Zealand yacht for Sir Peter Blake, which is situated in the Auckland Viaduct.      

Wooden signs were made for many gates and entrances, including Admiralty Lodge in Whitianga, the Simpsons Beach Camp ground, Te Rerenga School, the Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten in Kuaotunu and Kuaotunu Village.

Over the last few years, Irene was knitting rugs for Romanian children. She was always a great carer for the underprivileged, fostering many children and working hard to create a safe and loving environment for them. For many years she assisted in the running of the Elusive Trackers Tramping Club in Tauranga, providing teenagers with fantastic experiences and life skills.

Outside of work and her passion for helping others, Irene adored the outdoors. She completed many wilderness tramps. Her favourite was Te Urewera Lake. She also enjoyed competing in 90 Mile Beach fishing competitions.

Irene lived on a beautiful 50-acre block of land near Whangapoua, where she created a nursery of native and exotic trees, while also tending to an abundance of flowers and animals. Irene enjoyed donating her home-grown flowers to the Rudolf Steiner Kindergarten in Kuaotunu each week. 

Irene will be sadly missed by her daughter Bernice and son Wayne, daughter-in-law Mandy, grandchildren Tommy, Joseph, Hunter and Clare, sisters Margaret and Tilly, brother-in-law Neil and nephews and nieces Angela, Philip, Steven, Deborah and Rebekah.

Irene’s carvings will continue to keep her legacy alive and will be enjoyed by the Mercury Bay community and further afield for many years to come. Her passion and dedication to the craft of wood carving will not be forgotten.

From Bernice, Wayne, Mandy, Tommy, Joseph, Hunter, Clare and the rest of Irene's family, thank you to Dr Alvin Tan and Dr Osama Salih from Waikato Oncology and all the Thames Oncology staff and the district nurses. Thank you also to Dr David Wilson, Dr Dan Asquith and Dr Nic Ribet and all the Mercury Bay Medical Centre staff, the staff at Whitianga Continuing Care for the brilliant end of life care they gave to Irene and the Mercury Bay Cancer Support Group and the Whitianga Social Services Volunteer Drivers for all the support they gave Irene in her last months. And to all the family and friends who came to visit in Irene during her last weeks and gave her lots of laughs, a heart-felt thank you.

A private memorial service for Irene will be held in March 2019.

Pictured is one of Irene's carvings in the Whitianga Fire Station.



Should Waikato DHB fund the provision of some public healthcare services in a new multi-service medical facility in Whitianga?

The Mercury Bay Informer is a highly popular community newspaper, based in Whitianga. The paper is distributed throughout the Coromandel Peninsula, coast to coast from Thames to north of Colville.