Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Margaret Mahy: A Memorial Celebration of Her Life, Christchurch 1st August 2012

Celebration of Margaret Mahy’s Life
Geo Dome, Hagley Park, Christchurch 1 August 2012

The celebration was held on a cold winter’s day in a large geodesic dome in Hagley, an unlikely (but comfortable) setting which would have greatly amused Margaret. I arrived very early with my daughter Ruth, which meant that we not only got good seats but also heard the school choirs singing some of Margaret’s poems beautifully, at their final rehearsal.
Soon the tent was full and we had to move our chairs to let a man in a wheelchair past. On his lap he held a marvellous box, about the size of a large shoe-box, with pictures from some of Margaret’s books pasted on it. We recognised the lion and Norbert the great white man-eating shark. “What a fabulous box,” Ruth said, and the man nodded and wheeled on up the aisle.

Louise Deans welcomed everyone, “Aren’t we lucky that we had Margaret Mahy living among us, and we all knew her and loved her?” We all sang Blake’s Jerusalem.
Tessa Duder gave a marvellous, witty, succinct summary of Margaret’s life (beginning ‘Once upon a time…’) and moved many to tears by concluding with a reading of Margaret’s poem When I Grow Old.

Two of Margaret’s older grandchildren, Poppy and Alice, spoke and read from Notes from a Bag Lady. They noted that “Margaret often broke out in a can-can in the school playground.” One read from a little boy’s sympathy card on Margaret’s death: “No more summery Saturday mornings for you, my friend.”

Jack Lasenby once said that Wonderful Me by Margaret Mahy was one of the most perfect poems ever written. The highlight of the service was Margaret’s granddaughters, the twins Julia and Biddy, giving a perfect reading of Wonderful Me.

Rosie Belton gave a tribute to Margaret on behalf of her fellow Governors Bay residents. She spoke of Margaret’s part in the life of the bay, as well as the walks, the scenery and the filming of Kaitangata Twitch, “where fact and fiction merged and Margaret watched her characters come to life – the wonder of it all.” Rosie mentioned Hallowe’en at Governors Bay, when Margaret would dress up as a witch and give the visiting children gifts. “And a nip for their parents.”
Today the school sign at Governors Bay reads ‘Thanks Margaret. Rest in peace.’

(The people of Governors Bay made and served the afternoon tea, which included splendid club sandwiches, afghans, lemon curds and Nenisch tarts. One lady remarked she was thinking of moving to Governors Bay just for the food.)

Rosie recounted an exchange between Margaret and a granddaughter as they drove over the Port Hills. A serious question was seriously considered and seriously answered.
Lily: “Margaret, have you read all of your books?”
Margaret: “Well, Lily, I have read all of my books, and some of them do take quite a time to read.”

Lorain Day, the publisher, said, “My friend Margaret was, quite simply, a genius…a genius real and true.” She gave the example of a friend saying, “That’s a Margaret Mahy sort of word.” She told of taking Margaret to Weta Workshops to meet Sir Richard Taylor, with whom she got on very well, and with the Weta designers who thanked Margaret for showing that fantasy was valid and imagination was to be treasured.

Gavin Bishop, slightly embarrassed at having been described by Margaret as “a Sicilian bandit in a Savile Row suit,” read from the The Pirate’s Mixed-Up Voyage. “Who cares if we can’t read – we’re pirates, not pedants.” He pointed out the cute little touches, such as “a seedy-looking little business called Rent-a-Librarian.”

Kate di Goldi spoke of re-reading many of Margaret’s books in preparation for a filmed interview. “For Margaret, language was an intoxicant, a spell, an enchantment. It was her food – a special nourishment.” Kate spoke of Bubble Trouble as a metaphor for Margaret’s life, “wafting along, creating wondrous merry hell” and drawing us out of our mundane lives to enjoy the fun.
“She dug around in her consciousness and pulled amazing things out, much as Dad does down the back of the chair.”
They then screened Yvonne Mackay’s film of Margaret reading Down the Back of the Chair to the twins, with animated additions (lion, snake, elephant, taxi) by Euan Frizzell.
A children’s choir then sang some of Margaret’s poems, set to music by Philip Norman. It was beautifully done.

Sue Colyer and Louise Easter, wearing multi-hued wigs, spoke lovingly of Margaret’s time with them at the School Library Service of the National Library and at Canterbury Public Library. “Margaret would sing sea-shanties as she shelved. Sometimes she would dance a hornpipe.” Her lunch-time ‘power-naps’ were remembered, as well as her work as Children’s Librarian. Christchurch City Libraries’ reference collection of New Zealand children’s books is named the Margaret Mahy Collection, in her honour.

A recording made by Yvonne Mackay of Margaret reading her poem Ghosts was played – the same recording broadcast as part of the tribute by Tessa Duder and John McIntyre on Radio NZ National the day after Margaret’s death. Choir boys sang Pie Jesu beautifully as Margaret’s family left the tent. With them they took Margaret’s ashes, which had been in the tent with them throughout the celebration.

Ruth and I were flabbergasted to realise that the lovely box we had seen carried in, was in fact the box holding Margaret’s ashes. It was a perfect Margaret Mahy ending to a perfect Margaret Mahy celebration.

Trevor Agnew
2 August 2012

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