Heron charmed Wairarapa lensman

By Vomle Springford

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IN HIS ELEMENT: Richard Clark, about a year after he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, out and about with his dog Kiri. PHOTO/EMILY FRIEDLANDER
IN HIS ELEMENT: Richard Clark, about a year after he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease, out and about with his dog Kiri. PHOTO/EMILY FRIEDLANDER

"I am returning as a heron" are the last words written on Richard Clark's blog.

Just days before he died from motor neuron disease (MND), the Featherston resident was captured by the sight of the bird flying across the sky.

"The heron was a beautiful sight and a beautiful image for him," said Emily Friedlander, his partner of four-and-a-half years.

Diagnosed with MND in 2011, the award-winning film editor and photographer began writing a frank account of life with the disease on www.kiwicafe.com.

He was an adventurer and a very physical person who enjoyed running and walking, said Ms Friedlander.

"He loved driving around Wairarapa and getting lost, with a camera always around his neck," she said.

The disease, which has been likened to being buried alive, put a halt on his life but he was an "incredibly positive person" and in spite of the disease found ways to be creative, she said.

Ms Friedlander said MND had in a way helped him to focus on writing, something he always enjoyed. The degenerative disease destroys the nerves that power the muscles, slowly paralysing the sufferer. But it doesn't affect the mind.

"The disease sharpened his mind, which is an extraordinary thing about the disease.

"He used it as a tool to focus on what he valued in life," his partner said.

He had no energy to speak, Ms Friedlander said, so the online world allowed him to communicate and connect with people, along with the Featherston community.

She said Richard would like to be remembered as a film editor, photographer and philosopher.

During his last few days, online comments flooded in from friends, family and strangers around the world.

"They have all written such lovely things," said Ms Friedlander.

"He meant so much to so many people.

"He hadn't taken that on board, in the end when he did, that made him cry."

Gareth Winter said: "Your honesty and integrity at this time is inspiring Richard Clark.

"I am sure others will feel as I do that you have given us all a precious gift. Whenever we see a heron in the future we will think of you and smile.

"But there is just one thing - the heron is a lovely bird, elegant and shapely (just like you of course) but it does have a raucous call ... kia kaha kotuku, kia kaha."

Colin Olds commented: "Rest in peace Richard, I didn't always agree with your comments, but did enjoy the passion you shared for our town."

Emma McCleary commented: "Goodbye Richard. You always had something worthwhile to say whether that was a supportive comment, a challenge to do things better or arguing on Facebook.

"I'll miss you being here but, of course, your photos of Featherston will be a constant reminder."

Ms Friedlander plans to turn his blog into a book and get the last film he was editing - one filmed in America where he often worked - finished. "I won't give up on it."

She said Richard would have wanted people to be more aware of MND.

"An extraordinary number of people are touched by MND.

"So little is known about it the disease, more needs to be done."

- Wairarapa Times-Age

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