Matt McCarten on politics
Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Sir Paul signs off with a smile

Paul Holmes is a national icon on the basis of his hard work and talent. Photo / NZ Listener
Paul Holmes is a national icon on the basis of his hard work and talent. Photo / NZ Listener

One of the things about having terminal cancer is that your imminent death drags on.

Paul Holmes - Holmsie - reluctantly surrendered to his mortality early Friday.

When someone we love dies abruptly, it's a shock. Most times we regret we didn't tell them enough we loved or respected them.

We hear about a parent or lover who had some argument the last time they saw their child or partner, and feel shattered their last memory with them was unpleasant.

I wasn't expecting to live after my cancer had spread to my liver two years ago. A dying period is better. It allows you the time and opportunity to connect more deeply with family and friends.

It also gives you the time to make amends, or at least make peace with former and current enemies. As readers of my column probably know, I haven't got any softer though.

Most people I've met who have been diagnosed as terminally ill go through the natural grief process. Their regrets seem more to do with what they have not done, rather than their mistakes.

Any regrets seem to be about how they treated people who loved them. I'm no exception. The good thing is we get more time to put some of it right.

Most of us can do our dying quietly. But Paul Holmes, always a showman, obviously relished every minute of being the focus of attention.

Fancy having the Prime Minister and the Governor-General popping over to your home to tap you in as a knight of the realm in front of the nation.

It can't get much better than that for a public celebrity.

I loved the way he reacted when he was told his pending death was on the front page. His response? "How big was it?" It doesn't get funnier than that.

Didn't you just love the quip that he wanted everyone to now call him "sir"?

The standard platitude expected of a recipient is to pretend the honour isn't for their efforts but recognition for their family and colleagues. Oh, please!

I don't agree with European feudal titles in our country but Holmes is among the very few who actually deserve our highest honour. He became a national icon on the basis of his hard work and developed talent.

Retired politicians, business tycoons and judges who've lived the high life on everyone else's dime aren't in the same league as true champions like sportspeople, community volunteers, scientists and artists like Holmes.

This guy came into our homes every night, becoming part of our family. We should have knighted Holmes years ago and made him Governor-General. I'd become a monarchist for that.

I first met Holmes 22 years ago when I was managing the Tamaki by-election for the Alliance Party after Sir Robert Muldoon died.

I could hear a commotion in the front room and went to see what was happening.

One of our huge Polynesian supporters had bailed up this little guy with curly black hair and geek glasses. She was berating him over something I don't remember.

What I noticed was how Holmes engaged with her. Within a minute he had her charmed and soon she was insisting on making him a hot drink and a sandwich.

He caught my eye. A hint of smile and a beaming twinkle.

I'm used to politicians faking sincerity. This guy just loved and enjoyed people, period. My opinion of him never changed.

Last time we met we had chatted about our cancers. He said I looked good. I said he looked terrible. He said he was dying. I said everyone was dying.

He confided he would have loved to have been Auckland's Mayor. I told him he was the right height for it.

He said he was probably too "rightie" for me. I said so was the current Mayor. He said no political career in this life. I said maybe the next.

When we parted he was beaming and twinkling. And that's how I'll remember him.

I've never called anyone "sir". But here's to you, Sir Paul. A truly great first citizen.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- Herald on Sunday

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