Motorists travelling the highways of the Takapau Plains from the 1970s to the early 1990s feared and respected the name Tony Gruiters.

Takapau's former traffic officer with the Ministry of Transport was so successful in nabbing speeding drivers from behind the wheel of his black-and-white highway patrol car, he even earned the moniker "The Terror of the Takapau Plains".

Tony Gruiters originally came from Holland.
Tony Gruiters originally came from Holland.

Born Antonius Jacobus Gruiters in Holland on May 1, 1938, the 78-year-old great-grandfather was farewelled by 100 mourners at a funeral at St Andrew's Church in Waipukurau last month.

He died on April 13 in Levin where he had spent the final years of his life battling Alzheimer's.

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Speaking before his funeral, his former colleague Ivan Robertshaw, who was the ministry's traffic officer for Waipawa, said while Tony's nickname and reputation as a "tough but fair" traffic officer was well deserved, he was also highly regarded by the Takapau community.

"He had a great friendship with the people of Takapau," Ivan said. "He was more than just a traffic officer - he was a social worker and he was a 'domestic mediator' because people would ring him when he was off-duty and ask him to come round and sort things out. And of course he was a district councillor, too, for that area. He was a really good chap, old Tony."

Tony's enthusiasm for 'terrorising' speeding drivers meant he was well-known outside of CHB, and his reputation often preceded him, Ivan said.

"I always remember one night I was staying at the Abel Tasman Hotel in Wellington - this was years ago - and I was at the bar at the top of the hotel and I could hear these salesmen talking in the background.

"They were talking about this 'traffic cop from Takapau' and saying 'you don't want to speed down there, I get pulled over every time'. The other guys were saying 'yeah I think he might be a Dutchman - he just comes out of nowhere'. I had to have a chuckle to myself. His name preceded him - he was quite well known," Ivan said.

Speaking at his funeral, his other colleague, Waipukurau traffic officer Laurie Normanton, said Tony was "the legend of CHB on State Highway 2 on the Takapau Plains'."

Laurie, who along with Tony and Ivan worked as CHB's traffic officers from the 1970s right up until they integrated with NZ Police in 1992 and became police officers, revealed Tony also went by another nickname.

"My brother- in-law was the transport manager for BP in Wellington and he always told his drivers 'look, if you are going to speed anywhere, just don't do it on the Takapau Plains because The Flying Dutchman will get you!'"

Laurie said Tony had a "great rapport" with young drivers in town, and recalled a story involving one young man who boasted his new car was faster than Tony's patrol car.
"Well, Tony said to him 'next time we meet you can do all the talking and I'll do all the writing'.

"Two weeks later he stops the young man, speeding, and hands him an infringement notice. And the young guy says 'Geez, do you think I can get a discount? That Laurie Normanton used to give me a discount'. Tony says, 'Well, Laurie's Ngati Kahungunu but I am Ngati Dutch - so pay it in full'."

Laurie said Tony was great to work with and along with Ivan, the trio of traffic cops made for a "pretty good team".

"So on that highway in the sky, Tony, you tell whoever's in charge that you will run the traffic division and wait for Ivan and I, and we'll have a reunion. God bless."

Tony did a lot for the youth of Takapau as a junior soccer and judo coach. Takapau's former postmaster for a few years in the 1970s, Stan Richardson, said Tony helped "tone down the town".

"Regardless if they were on the right side of the law, or the wrong side, people had great respect for Tony," he said.

Tony's son Chris, thanked the mourners for attending. "Being a traffic cop, I understand some of you may have had dealings with him under some unsavoury circumstances. But he had a job to do ... and there was always a level of mutual respect from the community."

Chris said his dad was one of 10 children, and learnt welding and engineering while working in his father's plumbing and central heating business, before he and some of his family sailed for New Zealand in 1958.

After arriving in Auckland and not knowing a word of English, the first few years for Tony and his family were pretty tough. After meeting his first wife he moved to Takapau in the early 1970s where the "proud and stubborn" handyman indulged in his passion for finding and restoring old cars.

Tony was married three times and had five children, four stepchildren, was opa to 12 grandchildren and had two great-grandchildren. His third wife Christina said she had to make the hard decision to put Tony into care nine years ago due to Alzheimer's.

"He was truly an officer and a gentleman," she said.