Farewell to a man who did the right thing

By Beck Vass

Austin Hemmings' wife and children stood before a packed church and spoke of their love for a man who told them he loved them every day.

It wasn't easy, but it was the right thing for them to do.

The courage they showed speaking at Mr Hemmings' funeral yesterday was testament to their strength of character and faith - traits instilled in them by Mr Hemmings, who died a week ago doing what was right and helping a woman in need.

The 44-year-old was fatally stabbed while assisting the woman, who was calling for help in Mills Lane, central Auckland.

The theme running through the service yesterday was of strong family values, Christian faith and "doing the right thing".

About 1000 people attended the funeral at Holy Trinity Church in Devonport. The church was packed, and the overflow crowd spilled into a separate hall to watch the service on a video link.

There were tears and laughter as friends and family remembered a loving and proud father and husband and as colleagues remembered an inspirational "leader, not a manager".

His younger daughter Jessica, 17, spoke of his giving nature.

"He gave love, hugs, friendship, money, and in the end he gave his life. Through him giving his life, he'll see that more life comes from it. I love you, Dad."

Mr Hemmings' widow, Jenny, expressed thanks for "25 wonderful, wonderful years" with him.

She also thanked New Zealanders for their heartfelt messages and sympathy.

"People have been asking me what they can do for us," she said. "They said 'anything' ... so here it goes.

"Austin prayed every morning for his family, for his friends and for the people of New Zealand. I could never have imagined that his wish of reaching the nation with a message of God's love would be fulfilled.

"So for me, what you can do for me, because you've said 'anything', is to please write to me and tell me please how Austin's death has changed you."

As the family walked from the altar, elder daughter Meghann, 19, whispered the phrase her father used frequently: "Missing you already, Dad."

At the end of the service, 44 doves were released from behind 44 white roses - one for each year of Mr Hemmings' life.

The police investigation into his killing continues. Officers were last night still seeking a taxi driver believed to have taken the main suspect to Mangere or the Mangere Bridge area after the stabbing.

Detective Senior Sergeant Gerry Whitley said staff would today take their mobile police station to the place in Mills Lane where Mr Hemmings died, hoping to talk to more witnesses.

A 45-year-old sickness beneficiary, whose name is suppressed, has been arrested on an assault charge in relation to the case. Police will lay more serious charges when he next appears in court.

* Mrs Hemmings says anyone wishing to write to her can send the letter to her care of: Holy Trinity Church, 20 Church St, Devonport, North Shore City, 0624.

- NZ Herald

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