Our People: Joy Gordon

By Jill Nicholas

Seven years of Joy Gordon's life have been spent in virtual solitary confinement.

Let's clarify that - that confinement wasn't of the penal kind, the reality is she lived so deep in the Kaingaroa Forest she rarely left the remote Pekepeke fire lookout her father manned from the watchtower that topped their Forest Service home.

Those were the days when the relatively new forest was such a tinderbox fires frequently erupted. Joy's father, Vern Ericksen, was one of a handful of those who constantly monitored the vast area for possible outbreaks.

The Ericksens' was a singular existence - neighbours did not exist. From 8-15 Joy and her brother Don's lessons came courtesy of the Correspondence School, with Pekepeke's wide blue yonder their playing field. It was there the seeds were sewn for her love of walking that led to her founding the Walking With Joy group.

For around three decades its members, at times numbering in the hundreds, have combed local bush, mountains and valleys, with additional forays from Coromandel to the Deep South.

But Joy Gordon's not just a walker, she's a doer whose community involvement's been vast (see factbox).

It was the walking group that Our People went to chat to Joy about but as is often the case with those pointed in our direction, we uncovered her extraordinary story of growing up in places so isolated few have heard of them, the Pekepeke lookout included.

She retains a deep love of the place way out east of Murupara with views that stretched from Mt Edgecumbe south to the Central Plateau's mountains "We were thrilled when our parents let us sit up to see one of the mountains erupting with these huge rocks being thrown out."

As a child her father took her hunting deer and pigs, the family's meat supplies depended on the hunt's outcome.

"Way out there we had to be self-sufficient."

Before Pekepeke Joy had briefly experienced two "proper" schools, Waiotapu and Kaingarao Forest, the latter a 12km bike ride from the privately-owned Goudies Forest her dad then managed.

But the route was no easy peasy cycleway. "Herds of wild horses would rush out at us, we'd have to drop our bikes and climb a tree until they moved off so we were often late for school."

Their bikes weren't of the standard variety. "Dad made us a tandem with a little canvas top; my brother would cry because I wasn't peddling fast enough."

Joy's memories stretch back even further. Her earliest years were spent in a tiny slab house at Wharepaina, up-country from Reporoa.

At 16 she left Pekepeke for the (slightly) more populated Wairapukoa, south west of Murupara, joining an aunt in the singlemens' camp cookhouse. "It was scary but I did get to know my husband Reo there, he'd take me in his noisy truck to get the groceries in Kaingaroa."

From the cookhouse she became housekeeper-cook-child minder for an aunt and uncle farming near what's now Tamaki Tours' rural headquarters. Next move was to the "big smoke of Rotorua" and a housemaid's job at Brent's Hotel. "It took me a while to learn to live with people because I was so used to being isolated."

A bonus was that panel beater Reo was also in Rotorua. They married in 1952.

As their children began to arrive the couple built one of Western Heights' earliest homes remaining there until Reo's premature death in 1984. "After his funeral I went to stay with our son in New Plymouth, while I was away my house was burgled and I just couldn't live there any more."

Some years earlier Joy had become a foundation member of the late Anne Moore's walking group. "We went all over the place, Anne was a marvel she taught me so much."

Four years after joining Joy began to find herself short of breath. "Suddenly I couldn't do the big hills so at Anne's suggestion I formed a group for those who wanted similar walks but a bit shorter, I guess what I did was take out the really hard bits but we'd still go out rain, hail, snow or shine."

Despite the word 'joy' that's incorporated into her group's title she insists it wasn't named after her. "An English couple called it that because for all of us walking's such a joy."

A revelation here - Joy isn't her "official" name. "At birth I was called Thelma Jocelyn but that was shortened to Jo, as a teenager I hated it saying 'I'm not a boy' and changed it to Joy."

For the past 16 years Joy's lived with leukaemia but it's acute fibromyalgia that's put paid to her walking days; she's now confined to a walker and detests it.

"Walking's been my everything, I lived for it, for the people because when I was young I had not been with a lot of people, I loved the laughter, the little things we did I really, really miss it."

This is the final Our People for 2012 however the series will return for its fourth successive year early in 2013. To nominate someone to be profiled please email news@dailypost.co.nz with Our People: Attention Jill Nicholas in the subject line.


Born: Rotorua, 1934

Education: Waiotapu and Kaingaroa Forest primaries, 7 years Correspondence Schooling graduating with proficiency certificate

Family: Two sons, two daughters, 12 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren

Interests: Family, walking, volunteer work, crosswords and puzzles "I hang out every day for The Daily Post's code cracker", "chatting away to anyone and everyone"

Community involvement and awards: Rotorua Community Service Award 1995, Zonta Woman of Achievement Award, Probus Ngongotaha Community Service Award, Certificates of appreciation from YWCA recognising 25 years outstanding service, two applauding work with Western Heights community policing team and as Neighbourhood Watch area co-ordinator, Tower Insurance Senior Achievers Award, International Year of the Volunteer recognition, Drivewise (for organising group's Ngongotaha branch), Sport Bay of Plenty Award, Radio Geyserland 'You're A Beaut' Award.

Personal Philosophy: "You reap what you sow."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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