Memories abound as family members remember Val White

06 Apr 2021

A talented, determined lady with a wicked sense of humour is how the family of the late Val White have been remembering the 99-year-old former Whitianga resident who passed away in October last year.

With planning underway to have a plaque for Val installed on the RSA memorial wall at the Mercury Bay Cemetery, her daughter Erica, son Bob and their respective partners, Stan Dungan and Heidi Jeary, met up with Des Gyde from Mercury Bay RSA in Whitianga on Wednesday last week, sharing photographs and a colourful array of memories.

From being crowned Miss New Zealand in 1940 to serving in the Airforce, there’s lots to chat about and Erica and Bob are rightfully proud of their mum’s accomplishments and general approach to life. “She had it tough growing up,” Erica says. “Her mother died when she was just three so she didn’t have it easy but she never let it hold her back, her attitude was always to just get on with things.”

“She had no problem telling people what she thought, she had a strong mind and was very independent,” Stan adds.

The family say this resilient streak was part of what kept Val in such good health until she passed away peacefully in Gisborne. “She never had any medication, she was never sick,” Erica says. “She nearly made the hundred but just not quite.”

Born Valayo des Landes in Napier in 1921, Val lived in Whitianga for 30 years, moving to the town with her husband, Bob, of the well-known White family. “His predecessors had built the stone store down by the Robinson Road boat ramp so they had a lot of history with the area,” son Bob says.

Val’s life in the Whitianga community particularly centred around her passion for quilting and her 25-year involvement with the RSA, including serving as Treasurer. “She was meticulous about that. She was never out my as much as a cent,” Erica says.

Val’s quilts were regularly donated for fundraising drives for the likes of the SPCA or St John.

A true survivor, she recalled being at school and looking around to see all her classmates lying on the ground after the Napier earthquake struck in 1931. Her teacher was lost in the disaster. Driven by a desire to fly, she joined the New Zealand Women’s Auxiliary Airforce, reaching the rank of WA2 which Des describes as someone who was experienced and “on the way up.”

Seven years ago, just before leaving Whitianga to move to Gisborne to be closer to her son, Val spoke to The Informer and described her time assisting with the building of Hudson and Hinds bombers as part of a team of 20 women based at Ohakea who hand stitched linen over the plywood frames of the aircraft. “I got invited up on one of the planes I had helped to make and the captain asked me if I’d like to take the controls,” she remembered. “I flew it for about half an hour, along the beach near Tangimoana. It was a wonderful experience.” Bob says it was one of the highlights of his mum’s life and her eyes lit up whenever she talked about it.

If she was precise with her bookkeeping for the RSA, Val was equally conscientious about her quilting. “If she wasn’t happy with it, she would redo it,” Bob says. “Or she might want a very particular colour and if she couldn’t find it, the quilt would go away in the cupboard. It could be months later and she’d spot what she was looking for and then she’d get the quilt out and finish it.”

But Val’s craft talents didn’t stop at just quilts. “She trained as a milliner and she would make the most amazing hats,” Erica says, noting how her mum took huge pride in her appearance, always endeavouring to look her best. “Whenever there was a special occasion, she would make herself a new one.”

Des says he has loved getting to know Val’s family and learning more about her history which he has worked hard to research with assistance from a friend. “She was a remarkable lady and since her family have been in touch with me, I have also been finding out more about the process of getting the plaques for the RSA wall at the Mercury Bay Cemetery made and the best people to deal with for the particular skills involved.”

As a result, Des is also looking forward to being able to install plaques for several other former servicemen from the Whitianga area who have died in recent years. Erica says Val would have been delighted to know that her passing had helped instigate others being recognised alongside her. “She was clear about where she wanted to be on the wall too,” Erica says. “She said don’t put me on the edge because it might be cold.”

Des has obliged and Val’s plaque, which will be in place within the next few weeks, will go directly underneath her husband, Bob’s and happily one in from the edge.

Pictured: Val White (nee Des Landes) who passed away in October last year.