Eltham stalwart mourned

By Erika Venter

Don Drabble leaves a wealth of memories among friends and family, and his indelible mark on Eltham's history.

Don died following a three-car accident near Ngaere on State Highway 3 last Thursday.

Says South Taranaki District Council Deputy Mayor and close friend Alex Ballantyne: "He was one of the real oldies. He loved Eltham, and he had worked for Eltham. We will miss him. We really will."

The 81-year-old Eltham stalwart died at the scene around 6pm after pulling out of Cornwall Road in front of an oncoming Taranaki Regional Council vehicle driven north by Rick Caskey (51) and also hitting south-bound Juanita Jordan (49) and Heather Neill (59), from Huiroa.

Rick was hospitalised with chest injuries, but was back home on Monday.

Juanita says she and Heather were underway from Ngaere to Eltham when they noticed the vehicle coming from Cornwall.

"I was keeping aware of our position. The two cars impacted and debris was flying everywhere. The regional council car skidded across the road in front of us.

I braked and was almost at a standstill when it hit us," says Juanita, describing her and passenger Heather's ordeal. They sustained no injuries.

They both had done a first aid course in July, which they said held them in good stead, having also covered dealing with road accidents.

"I got out and grabbed my phone to ring 111. I had to go away to the road sign to see where we were and then went to the council car to see if anyone needed help.

"The driver got out of the vehicle and was lying on the side," says Heather. She has been in five previous car crashes, but says this is the first that had claimed a life.

Juanita went to Don's aid and says she just kept talking to him, staying at his side until help arrived.

The pair praised the emergency services, saying the Eltham Volunteer Fire Brigade was on the scene within minutes, followed closely by the police and ambulance, and also those of the public who helped direct traffic until the brigade arrived.

"It is very tragic for his family and for Eltham," says Juanita.

Don, fondly known as Mr Town Hall for his pivotal role in saving the town's iconic hall, last week received a Local Heroes medal in the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards in New Plymouth for his contribution to his town, and earlier this year received life membership from the Friends of the Eltham Town Hall and a 60-year badge from the Eltham Savage Club.

"It is wonderful that we could have honoured him before his death," says the Friend's Pauline Turpie. "Don and Margaret (his wife) have been staunch supporters of the hall.

Karen Christian, Chairperson Friends of the Eltham Town Hall, says Don grew up coming to Town Hall functions from school Fancy Dress balls to a lifetime connection with the Eltham Town Hall.

"We estimate Don has been involved with the hall for 75 years. His family association is also strong with his father Harry Drabble, being a former Projectionist in this hall, and Mayor. An electrical contractor by trade, Don has played many parts in his enthusiastic involvement with the town hall both politically and socially. As an Eltham Borough Councillor, he was spokesperson for the hall, and he too became a projectionist. His community involvement and dedication is immense."

Don also wrote the historical record for the conservation plan for the hall and a book about Taranaki dairy trailblazer Chew Chong.

Don Drabble's legacy to his community and the local Savage Club includes a rise-and-fall stage.

Don has performed throughout New Zealand as a songster, musician, storyteller and sketch artist as well as being in a haka group, and to many groups including the RSA and senior citizens.

"His harmonica playing was of note, as was his keyboard and double bass playing. Don is a life member of the club and is a past Rangatira and long-time committee member who has served the club over 60 years 'with distinction'," club member Jim Frandsen earlier told the Stratford Press.

Don was a founding member of the local Lions club and helped Alex restore the World War I canon still used today in parades.

"He was a really nice bloke, a really giving and energetic and talented man," says Alex, adding that Don's main legacy is his set example. He was a really clever and selfless man, but also really, really humble. He was always thinking of others - never had a grizzle about other people or a bad word to say about anybody," says Alex.

A service for Don will be held at the Eltham Town Hall tomorrow at 11am. In preference of flowers a donation to the Alzheimer's donation will be appreciated.

- Stratford Press

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