Key shares quake boy's pain at loss

By Jarrod Booker

John Key met Sam Willems at his Christchurch school and comforted him over the loss of his mother, Lisa, in the earthquake. Photo / Getty Images
John Key met Sam Willems at his Christchurch school and comforted him over the loss of his mother, Lisa, in the earthquake. Photo / Getty Images

Prime Minister John Key and 8-year-old Sam Willems don't have a lot in common, but they both know the agony of losing a parent at a young age.

Sam, who lost his mother, Lisa, in the Christchurch earthquake last year, got comforting words from Mr Key yesterday when the Prime Minister accepted an invitation to visit him at his school.

Keen to meet Mr Key after admiring him on television, Sam's initial attempt to invite the Prime Minister to his home for a barbecue about a month ago failed because Mr Key was busy. But about a week ago the school visit was arranged.

Sam admitted to the Herald he was "a bit nervous" when Mr Key arrived at his school. But the Prime Minister seemed to like chocolate brownies he had made, which pleased him.

Sam's mother, Lisa Willems, 43, died when building debris fell on her car as she waited at traffic lights in the 6.3 magnitude quake in February last year. Sam's father, Ben Willems, said his son had indicated some time ago he wanted to meet the Prime Minister after he saw him on television and "thought he was a pretty good guy".

Mr Willems suggested Sam write a letter, with the barbecue invitation, and he was surprised staff in Mr Key's office could even read "the schoolboy scrawl".

He told his son he would get some response, but was impressed to see a personalised card from Mr Key saying he had some understanding of what Sam was going through because he lost his father when he was only 6 years old.

Mr Key told the Herald his heart sank when he read in Sam's letter about his mother's death.

"That unfortunately is the reality of the great tragedy of Christchurch, that you have got youngsters growing up without parents.

"[Sam] was obviously a courageous young boy and I feel really confident that everything will work out well for him."

Mr Willems said Sam and his sister Olivia, 10, were resilient.

"But they certainly still do have their moments when the reality hits home, particularly around birthdays and Christmas times ... where they don't have a mum any more to be there with them."

The family were forced out of their damaged home after the February quake, but are living there again.

"Life will never be the same again," Mr Willems said.

"But the kids are a great support to me. And obviously they now look to me for all the support that they get. So between us we are doing not too bad really."

- NZ Herald

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