Obituary: Bill Parsons

By Laurilee McMichael

Was it the genes (his mother lived to age 99)? Was it good health? Or was it a blessing from Pope Pius XII back in 1945?

Whatever the reason, Bill Parsons made it to 104 years and eight months, a remarkable innings for a man who was born before the start of World War I, wounded twice in World War II, lost most of a thumb in the power scheme tunnels near Mangakino and later went on to become a well-known and much-loved figure in the Turangi community.

Bill, who was born on April 25, 1908, died in Waikato Hospital on New Year's Day after becoming unwell on Thursday, December 27.

He had celebrated Christmas with two of his sons and other family in Taupo and returned to his Turangi home where he has lived on his own ever since the death of his wife Hera (Sara) nearly nine years ago.

But he became unwell on December 27 and was taken to Taupo Hospital.

Bill's granddaughter Chelsea Tautala says Bill went quickly, and that was what he would have wanted.

"He was so independent. That's what he was most proud of at his age was his independence.''

Not only was Bill's life long, it was also eventful. Growing up in Taranaki, he remembered seeing Halley's Comet at the age of 3, and seeing men marching off to war in 1914.

In World War II he served as an engineer and working as part of the railway construction unit in the Middle East when the unit was blown up.

Suffering a broken arm, collarbone and ribs in the explosion, Bill was sent to a hospital in Beirut. He was later transferred to Italy and was involved in the battle for Monte Cassino. Near the end of his time, Bill was again wounded, this time hit by machine gun fire and a grenade, with surgeons later removing lead from his leg, hip and shoulder.

Near the end of the war, he was in Rome on leave where he had the opportunity to meet Pope Pius XII. The Pope blessed a set of roasary beads that Bill was returning to the family of a dead soldier, and blessed Bill as well.

Back at home Bill met and married Hera when he was working on the Waikaremoana Power Scheme. Together they had four sons, who in turn have produced 11 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

The couple moved to Turangi in the 1960s when Bill was working on the Tongariro Power Development and remained there after Bill's retirement.

Chelsea says Bill made a real effort to keep himself busy with regular outings. He kept his driver's licence as long as he could, only losing it when he was aged well over 100. After that, the Returned Servicemen's Association bought him a mobility scooter and he was a familiar sight around the streets of Turangi.

"He was still doing his thing, hanging out for Wednesdays which was bowls day and he went to the RSA's Christmas dinner and attended events, whatever was going on. If he had't been in hospital he would have been at the [New Year's Eve] midnight countdown at the club.

"He was of the generation where you just got on and did it. I'm sure that there were times that he was lonely but he made the most of what he had.''

Each morning Bill would cook himself breakfast of bacon, eggs and tomatoes, and home helpers from Tuwharetoa Health came daily to prepare an evening meal and do the housework.

In an interview in 2011 Mr Parsons said that he'd had a very good life and his secret to longevity was "be a little bit good and a little bit bad and you'll get around''.

However, longevity also ran in the family. Bill's mother lived to age 99 and two of his aunts passed the 100-year mark.

Bill's funeral was to be held today  at the Turangi-Tokaanu RSA and he will be buried at the Turangi Lawn Cemetary.


- Rotorua Daily Post

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