Thursday, 21 January 2021


Proper send-off planned for local legend

Relatives and friends are vowing to give local icon, Dennis “Thunder” Dunn, the send-off he deserves when the community can once again gather together.

Thunder passed away peacefully at his home in Coghill Street on Sunday, 5 April, and was laid to rest in the Ferry Landing Cemetery with Covid-19 restrictions dictating just two mourners and staff from Twentymans Funeral Directors could be present.

Thunder’s nephew, Brian Tout, who lives in Hawera, said he was absolutely gutted not to be able to come to Whitianga to farewell the uncle he idolised as a boy and loved dearly. “We had talked about it. I’d promised him when the time came we’d bring him straight from the house, past the Whitianga Hotel and on to the cemetery, but unfortunately we couldn’t do that. Still, at least we were allowed to bury him and he is where he wanted to be, at rest beside his mother whom he loved more than anything in the word.”

Last week, members of the Whitianga community took to social media in order to pay tribute to the good humoured 78-year-old, renowned for his cherry tobacco pipe and described as a local legend.

“Everyone in Whitianga knew Thunder and he loved the community,” Brian said. “There were four things in particular that were important to him. One was St Patrick’s Day and then there was the anniversary of his mother’s death. He always took flowers up to her grave. If he went back and saw someone had taken them, he would be raging and he’d go searching around the cemetery to find them and take them back again. His mother’s birthday and of course his own birthday were the other days that he never went without celebrating.”

Originally from the Papakura area of Auckland, Thunder moved to Whitianga with his mum, Beryl, a few years after his father, Roger, passed away from tuberculosis. “Thunder left school at around 13 when his father died in order to help with his brother and sister,” Brian said. “When he was 15, he became an apprentice jockey, he saw it as a good way of getting to Australia, having to look after horses going over on the boat. But he broke his back and had to come back to Auckland to the spinal unit at Otara. When he came out, he became a chicken delivery man for Tegel.

“He used to take me pig hunting. I remember one time we went during the school holidays and he fell and broke his thumb, but he told the doctor it happened at work.  I loved spending time with him, he was a very good uncle to me.”

According to Brian, it was at the Whitianga Pub, now the Whitianga Hotel, that Thunder first earned the nickname that was to become the only moniker by which many in the town knew him. “I think he met up with a group who had been pig hunting and someone went to buy a round of drinks and asked what to call him. Someone else said ‘Thunder Jaw’ because he never shuts up. They decided that didn’t quite work so they went with Thunder instead.”

Despite never marrying or having children, Brian said his uncle never felt alone in Whitianga. “He really enjoyed life in the community, spending time at the Mercury Bay Club in particular where he had lots of friends. And as everyone will know, if Thunder had something to say, he’d say it. But he was a great person, a great uncle, generous and kind and his passing is a sad loss for Whitianga.”

Brian said a celebration of Thunder’s life will be held later in the year, when his grave is officially marked. “I know Whitianga will want to give him the send off he deserves so we’ll certainly look forward to doing that.”

Pictured: Whitianga icon, Dennis “Thunder” Dunn, passed away on Sunday, 5 April at his home in Coghill Street.


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