Editorial: Compassion the force that drove Holmes

Master broadcaster wanted to be remembered as a good bloke who stood up to bullies and tried to help people - and he will be

So much has been written and spoken in tribute to Sir Paul Holmes that it is fitting now to offer him the final word: compassion. It was a word he tried to keep at the forefront of his work; something he wanted others to bring to their politics, their journalism and their lives.

For all the ego and the ability to give breathtaking offence on occasion, Holmes the broadcaster wanted to act compassionately. The cliche that journalism ought to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable might well have been written for him - although he didn't feel the need to afflict the comfortable without reason. He was one of them, and liked them unless he judged them smug, selfish and their actions or policies harmful.

In his broadcasting and writing, he stood up for the old, young, ill, disabled, powerless and wronged. Sometimes, pushing too hard, he ended up wronging them in the crossfire of public debate. Usually he would realise his excess and try to put it right, except for those he regarded as elitists, or threats.

Sir Paul could polarise New Zealanders. But his unique broadcasting achievements, simultaneously dominating radio and television current affairs for a generation, speak for themselves. It is safe to say we will not see his kind again.

The ailing Holmes had the benefit of hearing and reading many living eulogies: a long, lovely and mildly morbid celebrity roast.

One he might not have seen, and one of the briefest, landed in our email inbox last week. It was from Mark Scott and bears repeating here in full: "I can still see him clearly. Late at night in the bowels of the TVNZ basement carpark fussing over some paraplegic guests to the annual Holmes Christmas party, making sure everything was in order. Farewelling them with hugs and kindness. High on the roof-top, the party, with its dignitaries and celebrities, was in full swing. Yep, I can still see him clearly in that basement. A man whose love of people came from the heart."

Holmes' patronage of the Paralympics was not as a figurehead. He did all he could to open the eyes of New Zealanders to disabled athletes and their achievements. His humanity was evident in his programmes' embrace of HIV sufferer Eve van Grafhorst and his backing of the Stellar Trust, set up to campaign against methamphetamine; drugs having ensnared his daughter, Millie. The pair reconciled, to his great joy.

In September, after a heart operation and touch-and-go time in intensive care, Holmes wrote in this paper that "the cold wind has gone and there is so much love in my life. What more could a man want?"

He was knighted but there is no need to canonise him. He was no saint. He was refined but could be coarse, kind but cutting, loyal to a fault, and risky both on air and in the air piloting his aircraft. He should be portrayed wart (on the end of his nose) and all.

He said he'd like to be remembered as a good bloke who stood up to bullies and tried to help people. He didn't need to say it. Long ago, his identification with people's lives and his own much publicised personal troubles and redemption had confirmed Paul Holmes as a New Zealander with a good, big heart. His life was a highly public festival of success, joys and sadness, leavened throughout by the quest for compassion.

- NZ Herald

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