Gavin makes Rotorua shine

By Katie Holland

The Daily Post's Person of the Year 2012 is Gavin Hayes, chosen over 16 other nominees because of what he has unwittingly come to represent - the very best of you, Rotorua. Reporter Katie Holland catches up with the Rotorua pensioner and reflects on the incredible reaction to his story.2012 Person of the Year nominees

A grinning Gavin Hayes reckons life is definitely worth living again.

Today, he is named The Daily Post Person of the Year 2012.

In October, The Daily Post reported how the 82-year-old had been targeted by teens who stole money and food from his Glenholme flat and twice stole his car. On the last occasion it was written off, leaving the previously independent pensioner without the will to live. His story then featured on TV3's Campbell Live and TVNZ's Te Karere, prompting widespread outrage.

We received a flood of calls and emails from individuals and business owners in Rotorua and around the world, asking how they could help. They were angry, upset and ashamed that an elderly, vulnerable person could be treated in such a way in their community. Some were close to tears, despite not knowing Mr Hayes, commenting it could have been their father or grandfather.

Within hours, a Facebook page called "Gift for Gav" was launched that eventually raised more than $4000 towards getting him a new car. When Rent-a-Dent donated a car, that money went towards making his council flat more comfortable, with a new bed, fridge and washing machine.

There were also numerous offers to drive him around, to make him meals or just to visit. Mr Hayes also received letters of support which, together with the newspaper articles, are now displayed proudly on his living room wall.

The Daily Post editor Kim Gillespie said Mr Hayes' story had sparked something extraordinary in the community, which rallied to his cause.

"Gavin Hayes is not person of the year because of any particular good deed or ongoing service. Rather, he is the person of the year because of what he represents, what his story has shown us."

Mr Gillespie said Mr Hayes' story had been one of the most compelling of the year.

"We saw the dark side of human nature, and we saw the most wonderful side of human nature."

When told he was person of the year, Mr Hayes said he was happy although still overwhelmed by the support he had received.

"It showed there are a lot of good people out there. The amount of people who came in and left food and stuff like that, it was marvellous."

The new car has been put to good use with regular trips around town and despite a friend's reservations, Mr Hayes reckons he's still perfectly safe on the road.

"I haven't crashed yet," he laughed.

He has a new support worker from Korowai Aroha who checks on him every morning and night and helps with cooking and cleaning. There have been no more problems with teenagers and Mr Hayes says he feels safe and secure.

It's not all good news though - over the past couple of months he's been in and out of hospital with the flu and chest infections, but was well enough to drive himself to Taumarunui on Christmas Day to visit his wife's grave and catch up with a couple of old mates.

And one thing's for sure - he's no longer ready to give up on life.

"At the moment, I am too young to die," he said.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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